To Wear Sunscreen, or Not To Wear Sunscreen?

You’ve surely heard the beauty myth: “A base tan protects your skin.”  Lies!  My girls are too smart for that one, right? 

I know it…you know it…the whole damn world knows it: “it”, of course, being the fact that there’s no such thing as a safe tan.  Any amount of color is an indication that your skin has been damaged and is darkening in an inflammatory response to protect itself.  And yet…we persist! 

It’s summer…the sun feels so good…we all need Vitamin D…just a teensy bit of color won’t hurt…  Skin isn’t very democratic, so darker-skinned gals are luckier than fair-skinner ones: you’re at a dramatically lower risk for skin cancers like melanoma.  (You can burn, however, so don’t think you’re totally off the hook!)  As far as lighter-skinner gals–well, I don’t think any of us feel like enduring a lecture here, but suffice it to say you’ll be kicking yourself in a few years if you’re not doing something now to protect your skin.  (An ounce of prevention…)  Barring that, let me appeal to your vanity.  Wrinkles!  Oh, God…the wrinkles!

But here’s where it gets interesting.  There’s been a growing debate in recent years over the toxicity of sunscreen, with some of the more hardcore health-conscious (my mother was in this category, as are some personal health guru friends) advocating forgoing sunscreen altogether.  Their argument is that the potential cancer-causing damage from absorbing sunscreen through your skin far outweights the risks of cancer from wearing no sunscreen–are you still with me?–and so they go sunscreen-less, wearing hats and seeking shade whenever possible. 

As far as I know–or mainstream science has accepted–there’s still no conclusive proof regarding the Toxic Sunscreen debate, and I don’t have a crystal ball to forecast whether, in forty years, we’ll all be dropping dead of zinc oxide-and-Mexoryl-poisoning.  (If I were a betting woman, I’d wager that cell phone-, Diet Coke- and microwave-poisoning will probably get us first!)  But these are also not, it appears, the ravings of a fringe population…there does seem to be some truth behind it.  (Check out EWG for a report on “safer” sunscreens.)

I choose, with reservations, to apply sunscreen daily–my skin is fair and freckly, and skin cancer will doubtlessly seek me out if I’m not vigilant–avoiding chemical sunscreens when possible, and instead picking physical blockers with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Whatever your choice (chemical-laden sunscreen to keep the wrinkles firmly at bay; physical blockers perfect for sensitive skin; a life of jumping from palm tree shade to palm tree shade under a wide-brim hat), at least choose something–just not the tanning bed, three unprotected hours on the beach or, yes, a “harmless” base tan!

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  1. If you are using a sunscreen w/ chemicals or titanium dioxide, you are trading one cancer for another. Chemicals absorbed by your skin are a real problem. Unlike those you eat, they are not metabolized by your liver. However, it’s not an either or situation. Zinc Oxide is the ONLY sunscreen that’s safe. It’s been used safely for hundreds of … Read Moreyears. If you get an organic version (like Miessence which is certified by the Biological Farmers of Australia) and has no synthetic ingredients, you can protect yourself from both skin cancer & other cancers caused by chemicals. It not only protects your skin, but nourishes it too. This is the only one I will put on my daughter.

    Here’s more info

    & here’s a video for more info

  2. Liz

    I’ve been worried about the chemicals from sunscreen too, so I try to only wear sunscreen when I’m out in the sun all day, and not if I’m spending the day inside. Plus I wear a hat if I’m really out and about which is great because it protects all the parts of my head I usually forget (scalp & ears).

    I feel like there has to be a balance in there somewhere, between sunscreen everyday and no sunscreen at all. So far, the physical block sunscreens I’ve tried are annoying and make me look pastier than ever.