Lately, I have been thinking a LOT about sunscreen. To wear, or not to wear…that is the question.
The scale inside my brain is balancing slightly to the side of “not to wear”. Here is my logic as to why there is some confusion. My entire life I have not had a great track record of gorgeous tanned skin. A few folk refer to me as Ghost Girl because I have an extremely pale skin tone. I scare even myself in fluorescent lit change rooms with the blinding whiteness that is not my arms, neck and face. Fluorescent lighting is extremely unforgiving. As you have probably gathered, I am a rather health conscious individual that questions every product I allow into my home or on my body. Of course, I make a few exceptions here and there but only after knowing what I am dealing with. I am not paranoid but I choose to be informed. I question why sunscreen usage increases while skin cancer rates continue to climb. Should the outcome not be that skin cancer rates drop as sunscreen use increases? Therefore, sunscreen and all its pros and cons weighs heavily on my radar.
I am not interested in dealing with skin cancer. Let this be known. I knew someone when I was a teen that had part of both ears removed due to skin cancer and this really scared the ever-loving out of me. It made me aware of the risk factors that I am dealing with as a pasty, white girl who historically turns lobster red after 30 minutes in the sun. I slathered on sunscreen like nobody’s business through my 20’s, making myself even whiter than I’m naturally predisposed. Not a good look.
Unluckily for me, I am in a medium to high risk group for skin cancer.
Fair Skin Having less melanin in my skin gives me less protection from UV radiation. Not only do I have fair skin, I also have light blue eyes, freckle easily, and burn easily. Strike one.
History of Sunburns Childhood sunburns that resulted in severe burning and blistering. Yup, had a few of those. Strike two.
Excessive Sun Exposure I spend a considerable amount of my time outdoors in the sun at work. I do try to find shady spots whenever possible but that isn’t always an option. Strike three.
Sunny and/or High Altitude Climate I can scratch this off my risk list. Phew! Yes, it is sunny here in southern Ontario but not like it is closer to the equator that’s for sure.
Moles I have my fair share of freckles but no moles. Another all-clear.
Family History Another risk factor bites the dust.
Weakened Immune System I work hard at keeping my immune system strong through healthy eating, stress relieving meditation, fresh air and supplementation.
Exposure to Certain Substances Substances such as arsenic and certain pesticides. These aren’t always as easy to avoid as we would like. Even being vigilant within my own home, there are still those in our communities that don’t take these risks seriously and put everyone else at risk. This risk factor is a tricky one.
How do you rate on the risk factor list? Do you take the risk of skin cancer seriously?
Now that risk for skin cancer has been determined I find myself reaching for a 50+ UVA/UVB sunscreen only to stop mid-reach to question the efficacy of such products.
I question the ingredients in each sunscreen. Yes, there are harmful ingredients in many sunscreens on the market. Just because it is on the store shelf does NOT make it unquestionably safe. It is when we start to question the safety of ingredients that the world of hidden substances starts to become apparent. Think back a few years to when it became a talked about subject that oxybenzone in sunscreen may mimic estrogen. While both sides of this argument have a valid point, I always cringe when I hear the FDA or medical community say “there is no solid proof to suggest it is not safe.” Um, I am curious where the solid proof to suggest its complete safety is then. Another questionable ingredient is retinyl palmitate. This is used as a stabilizer and has anti-aging qualities but can make skin more sensitive to the sun and may actually promote skin cancer. Like other consumers, I find this confusing and frankly, quite maddening. Isn’t the whole point of sunscreen to protect?
What about the fact that some researchers say sunscreens with octinoxate, oxybenzone, parabens, or camphor derivatives are killing hard corals which could negatively impact biodiversity and reef ecosystems? I don’t want to inadvertently cause damage to marine life while trying to protect my skin! There has to be a better way.
UVA/UVB Issue UVA rays are present all year round. While UVB rays are responsible for sunburns, UVA radiation damages the underlying skin cells to cause premature aging, sun spots, and that leathery looking skin that honestly, who would want? So although sunburns are no treat (and I know from numerous experiences), premature aging due to cell damage is very unpalatable as well.
Chemicals + Heat = baked in exposure! Not only does everything you put on your body’s largest organ (that’s right, your skin) get absorbed within seconds but combine that with the heat treatment from the sun and we are literally basting ourselves with chemicals or unknown substances.
Skin Function Our skin is an amazing organ. I am curious as to how well it performs its job of heating/cooling effectively, ridding our body of toxins and being receptive to detecting threats such as pain or insects and other assaults due to numbing our sensors (hair and follicle reception of unwanted things) while slathered in goop and the hair stuck to the skin.
Discomfort I can withstand some discomfort in the name of safety and wellness but seriously, try to slather on a second (or third) application of sunscreen to skin covered in grass clipping, dirt, and mulch bits and sweat.
I continue on my quest for the perfect solution to the sunscreen debate. I now wear coconut oil on my face mixed with a tinted moisturizer made with organic ingredients. This keeps my face from drying out and/or becoming seriously sunburned. As for the rest of my exposed flesh I struggle with the idea of slapping on a product that I am uncomfortable with. I go between a few sunscreens that I am alright with but I still question long-term safety. I will always be on the lookout for an optimal skin protection regime and question, question, question everything I come across. It’s in my nature, I can’t help it.
“I was raised with the notion that it is OK to ask questions, and it was OK to say, I’m not sure.” – Peter Jennings