Many sunscreens contain chemicals that could be even more harmful than UV rays—what you need to know for healthy fun in the sun
You buy only the best wild Alaskan salmon. You seek out organic spinach and blueberries, and carefully avoid trans fats in your crackers and high-fructose corn syrup in your jam. And you go to great lengths to avoid chemicals of any kind in your food. But if you’re still buying conventional sunscreens and personal care products, you may still be putting harmful chemicals in your body.
If you’re not convinced, consider this:
1. Conventional products contain scary chemicals. What the makers of conventional sunscreens don’t want you to know: their products may contain chemicals that have been linked to increased risk of cancer, developmental disorders, reproductive damage, and numerous other health hazards.
They may contain phthalates, propylene glycol, parabens, and other chemicals that can increase cancer risk, lead to organ system damage, and cause reproductive harm. Natural sun protection products, on the other hand, are free of toxins and harmful chemicals.
2. Your skin is a sponge. Since you’re not eating personal care products, maybe you pay less attention to the chemicals in them than your would to those in your spinach and salmon. But anything you rub, scrub, or spray onto your dermis most likely makes its way into your bloodstream.
“Your skin is your largest organ and it is known to absorb more than 80 percent of what is applied to it,” says Josh Onysko, president and founder of Pangea Organics. “It’s like millions of little mouths. Do you really want to feed them things you can’t pronounce?”
Dermal exposure is just as valid a route of exposure as inhaling and swallowing, according to Leeann Brown, press secretary for the Environmental Working Group (EWG). What’s more, the effect is cumulative. “The average woman is exposed to about 120 different chemicals every day through personal care products alone,” says Brown. “These add up, and we don’t yet know what happens with that cumulative effect. But we know it’s there.”
3. Chemicals make you old before your time. You work so hard to stay youthful, and you’re counting on your personal care products to help. But every time you rub synthetic oils, artificial colors and preservatives on your skin, you’re aging it.
“Skin has a very specific and narrow pH balance,” says Lily Morgan, president and founder of Lily Organics. “Chemicals upset that balance and can contribute to wrinkles, dryness, and sagging skin.”
4. They might make you—and your children—fat. It’s widely known now that some of the chemicals in sunscreens and other personal care products are associated with reproductive harm. But did you know that they may also be associated with weight gain?
“Phthalates, for example, can activate receptors that stimulate stem cells to become fat cells, and also encourage deposition of fat in existing fat cells,” says Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D., professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California, Irvine. It’s a new area of research, and studies are currently underway, but what is widely known is that the powerful estrogenic activity these chemicals exert is associated with increased body fat.
It’s especially important for pregnant and nursing women to avoid any exposure to these chemicals, since exposure in utero and during early life can predispose the child to becoming fat. Early life is certainly in the first year of life, and may be all the way up to puberty, according to Blumberg.
“We aren’t sure what the window is,” he says. “But since the benefit of using chemicals in personal care products is non-existent, why pay an unknown cost?”
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