This picture shows the list of active ingredients for one of my sunscreens of choice – a generic brand of SPF30 Sport, proven by years of use not to sting my eyes when I sweat or play in the water. (Not pictured is my favorite and considerably more expensive Hawaiian Tropic SPF30 Sport, purchased and used because I LOVE the scent, and because I’m delighted that Hawaiian Tropic has finally made a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 8.)
Why am I sharing this? Because I want to show you that chemicals are not our enemies and that going “all natural” when drugs do a better job is not the smartest choice long-run.
Chemicals are all around us: Air, water, food, soap – things we put on and in our bodies – are all chemicals. Try living a life free of chemicals and see how long that lasts. Short answer: Three minutes. That’s how long we can go without air before we die. Chemicals are in drugs that we may use on a daily or occasional basis – multi-vitamins, blood pressure meds, and ibuprofen are all safe chemicals that help our bodies. Although it doesn’t seem like it, sunscreen, too, is classified as a drug, because it changes the makeup of our skin to prevent the damage caused by UV rays.
I’ve heard the concerns. “The chemicals will get into our skin and poison us.” “These chemicals aren’t safe.” “Those chemicals killed laboratory rats.” Let’s look at each one of those.
- “The chemicals will get into our skin and poison us.” Our skin is an incredible organ! It releases toxins through sweat, it protects our muscles and internal organs, and it helps insulate our bodies. As it protects, it forms a pretty impenetrable barrier against harmful – or not-so-harmful – things that want to get into our bodies. We come into contact with millions of bacteria a day that never get inside us, because they die on the skin. We take showers or go swimming, and as small as a water molecule is, we don’t bloat up with all this water getting inside of us, because the skin prevents it from happening. If our skin can keep something as small as a water molecule out, how in the world could a larger, more complicated nanoparticle of a chemical get past the skin barrier? It can’t, plain and simple. So, since these chemicals cannot get into our bodies through our skin, then they can’t poison us. In fact, the only way these would be harmful is if we were to drink gallons of sunscreen. Ew. Just… ew.
So you decide to avoid these chemicals and either take your chances with homemade, untested sunscreen or go without altogether – because you want to avoid chemicals. Or worse, you’re applying these products to your children, leaving them no choice in how their skin is protected. It’s ten or twenty or thirty years down the road, and you or they have skin cancer, a particularly nasty melanoma that has also started affecting your internal organs. You have a decent chance of survival – with chemotherapy. So now your oncologist is going to inject a stew of chemicals into your body to counteract the consequences of not applying chemicals topically when you were younger. That’s a pretty sucky trade-off, especially since applying sunscreen generally doesn’t make you exhausted, sick, or bald.
2. “These chemicals aren’t safe.” Properly prepared sunscreens are tested rigorously by the FDA, tests which are incredibly expensive to have conducted. I’m not so naïve that I believe the FDA never approves anything which is unsafe, but in the matter of sunscreens, I have yet to see any evidence, anecdotal or empirical, of harm coming to people who use sunscreens responsibly (e.g., not drinking it) or regularly. Bottom line, using sunscreen with all its “chemicals” is far safer than not using it or using untested sunscreen.
3. “Those chemicals killed laboratory rats.” Do you remember saccharine? It was the artificial sweetener of the 70s and 80s. And on each pink packet, there was the warning, “This product has been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” Great scare tactic! When people started digging deeper into this, they discovered that the labs were basically overdosing rats on the stuff, injecting them with far greater amounts than even the most ardent Tab drinker was likely to consume. (As an aside, I found it interesting that, when I was pregnant in the early 2000s, saccharine was the only artificial sweetener universally considered “safe” for fetuses.) The individual chemicals in sunscreens are tested similarly, though finished sunscreen is tested only on voluntary human subjects.
So, if commercially manufactured, FDA tested sunscreens are generally recognized as safe, why do makers willingly put people at risk by marketing handcrafted, all natural sunscreens? They’re banking on fear and ignorance. I’ve seen makers do this, though the ones I know personally aren’t doing it out of malice. They’re just passionate about their products and their all-natural niche, and they want to offer an alternative to their customers. Unfortunately, this is a terribly dangerous practice that is spreading, despite the FDA firing off warning after warning to small, independent manufacturers for selling untested drugs and making drug claims.
If you haven’t seen it, yet, I posted a link to a video this morning to my page that examines the dangers of handmade sunscreen pretty thoroughly. It’s several minutes long and easy to understand, even if, like me, Biochemistry isn’t your second language.
Given a choice, do you prefer having your drugs on your body, or in your body?