Janine Buisman Wilcox Naturopathic Doctor
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Sun Safety and Choosing the Best Sunscreen

It's that time of year again... the sun is shining, we’re dreaming of summer vacations, and we're asking the question - what's best sunscreen to use?

The skin is actually the body’s largest organ and while it provides a strong barrier to the external world, it also allows for significant absorption.  There is not a lot of regulation around skincare products, meaning that there are many products on the market containing certain ingredients that have been linked to cancer progression, skin allergies, and hormone disruption.  The words ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ don’t always mean that the product contains the best ingredients, and sunscreens often include penetration enhancers which actually increase their absorption into the body.  So what should I be slathering all over my body and my kids?

Before we begin, the sun is very powerful, it allows us to convert vitamin D into the active form.  Vitamin D plays an integral role in calcium level regulation, immune function, cell development and growth, cancer prevention and other cellular functioning and processes.  The sun is helpful for a number of health conditions and is good for our general well-being.  That said, we know that the sun's rays are also cancer causing.  So what to do…

Some skin exposure to sunlight is important, just keep it short, especially if it’s between the hours of 10am-3pm.  When you’re outside between 10am-3pm or for longer periods of time outside of those hours try to stick to the shade as much as possible and wear SPF clothes/swimwear, hats, and UV-protecting sunglasses.  If these things aren’t possible then it’s time for sunscreen.  Here is some important information to know:

  1. Higher SPF ratings don’t necessarily mean more protection from UV-related skin damage.   A sunscreen with an SPF of 55-100 actually only blocks 1-2% more UVB rays than an SPF of 30, and SPF measures protection from sunburn, not other types of skin damage from sun.
  2. It’s important to protect against UVA, UVB, and UVC rays.
  3. Application is key.  Apply a thick coat and re-apply frequently, especially if playing in the water.  Sunscreen sprays, while convenient, typically aren’t applied as thoroughly.
  4. Sunscreen’s protection comes from mineral or chemical filters.  Most conventional products use chemical filters and often contain questionable ingredients.  Sunscreens with mineral filters use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to provide a physical barrier to deflect the sun’s rays.
  5. Ingredients to avoid include: oxybenzone, octinoxate, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), retinyl palmitate and other forms of preformed vitamin A (retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate).  Homosalate, octisalate and octocrylene also have moderate toxicity concern.
  6. Vitamin D deficiency is extremely prevalent in Canada.  Sunscreen blocks the ability to generate vitamin D quite significantly.  Some ‘unprotected’ exposure to sunlight is actually important.  Check out the app ‘Dminder’ as a way to track your Vitamin D intake, and talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about safe sun exposure, and whether you should be supplementing Vitamin D.
  7. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) does a lot of research on sunscreen safety.  They’ve come up with a list of their best (and worst) scoring kid’s sunscreens (also good for adults!). On their site you can search your sunscreen product of choice to see how it rates and look at their list of top SPF containing moisturizers.  Another tool is the Think Dirty app - you can scan the product barcode and it gives you information about that product.
  8. Personal favourites of the sunscreens I’ve tried? Goddess GardenGreen Beaver, Badger and ThinkBaby/ThinkSport.  Badger has the least ingredients making it my go-to for babies (over 6 mths).  Goddess Garden and Badger tend to leave the skin with a bit of a white tinge, especially after getting wet.  Green Beaver rubs in well, but is on the greasier side.  ThinkBaby/Think Sport are easiest to apply.

With all of this information in mind, enjoy the sun this summer safely! If you’re looking to learn more check out more.

Looking for more information on how to keep your family protected from sun, bugs, cuts, scrapes, etc. or looking to overhaul your beauty/cleaning products?  Book an appointment to do an educational session on Naturopathic First Aid or Naturopathic Skin Care!

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