Burning Question: Does Sunscreen Really Work?

With Spring fast approaching (3 days from now) – I figured it would be appropriate to talk a little in depth about sunscreen’s effectiveness as temperatures are expected to rise, meaning more and more people will be heading to the beach.

The Brand You Use Matters

Sunscreen can be a life-saver. Its purpose is to protect our epidermis from the sun’s potentially harmful UV rays, which can lead to skin discoloration (the bad kind of tan), premature aging, and skin cancer. However, the degree of protection depends on which brand you use. A survey of 1000 sunscreen products proved quite varying results. In addition to sun safety, we now have to consider the health risks of our sunscreen.

 What Are Large, Credible Organizations Saying?

The Skin Cancer Foundation and the Environmental Working Group determined that 4 out of 5 sunscreen products do not protect the skin adequately, and/or contain ingredients that may affect one’s health. There is a scientific standard for these products that is often not upheld. Companies that manufacture sunscreen have developed their own system for evaluating the effectiveness of the protection their products offer. It has no basis in the actual science of these chemicals and the body.

The Environmental Working Group found they could recommend only 143 brands of the 1000 reviewed. Most are little-known brands with the classic UV blockers, zinc, and titanium.

What’s The Problem?

The troublesome ingredient with little scientific research to back up its effectiveness as sunscreen is oxybenzone. A study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine determined that sunscreens with oxybenxone could lead to free-radical damage to the skin, which in theory can lead to skin cancer. Also, in 2003 the CDC found oxybenzone in 97% of urine samples from 2517 samples. If you go by the vitamin quality standard, that means the chemical is not working, it’s being absorbed, but if it’s being excreted, it’s not effective. Still, there is not yet enough research on actual human beings to determine if oxybenzone is a health risk, or if we just need to be applying our sunscreen more often to properly protect our skin.

What Should I Buy?

Using a broad-spectrum product should cover all the issues with chemical breakdown. As with anything, moderation is key. Our skin needs some sunshine for the best source of Vitamin D on the market; 10-15 minutes of morning sun is the gentlest. If you want more sun, old-school sunscreen with the minerals zinc and titanium seems to be the most body-friendly. Avoid the hottest part of the day if possible, and eat your antioxidant fruits for some extra sun protection. Mmmm, frozen blueberries!