Green Tip – Green Your Sunscreen

Editor’s Note: Each Wednesday My Green Side brings Simple Tips for Green Living to The Christopher GabrielProgram. We also highlight a favorite green site each week. You can stream the segment at approximately1220pm (central) every Wednesday at or, if you’re in North Dakota or western Minnesota, listen on your radio at AM970 WDAY.

GREEN TIP: Before you slather on your sunscreen, check out the Environmental Working Group’s(EWG) 2011 Sunscreen Guide. Find out what their researchers are saying about the sunscreens on the market last season.

EWG’s fifth annual Sunscreen Guide is their biggest and most fact-packed database of U.S. sun protection products ever – rating 292 brands and 1,700 products.*

The highlights:

More mineral sunscreens

Nearly 90 brands, including CVS, Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Walgreens and Aveeno now offer sunscreens with zinc and titanium. These are the right choice for children, people with sensitive skin and others who want the best UVA protection without potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone or vitamin A, which may be carcinogenic on sun-exposed skin. None are sprayed or powdered, so they don’t pose inhalation dangers.

Red flags:

Poor UVA protection

Three of five U.S. sunscreens wouldn’t be acceptable in Europe. EWG’s analysis of more than 500 beach and sport sunscreens with SPF ratings of 30 and higher finds that more than 300 of them, about 60 percent, provide inadequate UVA protection and are too weak for the European market, where manufacturers voluntarily comply with a standard for meaningful UVA protection.

Risky vitamin A additives

Many sunscreen makers still use a form of vitamin A, called retinyl palmitate, ignoring recent scientific research by the federal Food and Drug Administration indicating the chemical may be photocarcinogenic – that it may heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin. While more definitive research is under way, EWG recommends that prudent consumers avoid vitamin A-laden sunscreens.

Sky-high SPF claims

About 1 in 6 beach and sport sunscreens claim SPFs greater than 50+, compared to 1 in 8 in 2009. Yet studies show that high-SPF users are exposed to as much or more ultraviolet rays than people who use lower SPF products. Why? Those big numbers give people a false sense of security. They wait too long before reapplying and stay out too long.

Still no federal sunscreen rules

The FDA declared its intent to regulate sunscreens back in 1978. The rules are still in bureaucratic limbo. While regulators delay, sunscreen makers can sell products that overstate sun protection and underperform in the real world. EWG continues to pressure the FDA to issue enforceable rules for sunscreen products.

*EWG’s Sunscreen Guide was updated with additional products on June 28, 2011. Statistics throughout this report are based on products in the database as of May 2011.

Source: EWG’s Sunscreen Guide

EWG’s Top Sun Safety Tips

  • Don’t get burned. Red, sore, blistered (then peeling) skin is a clear sign you’ve gotten far too much sun. Sunburn increases skin cancer risk – keep your guard up!
  • Wear clothes. Shirts, hats, shorts and pants shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays – and don’t coat your skin with goop. A long-sleeved surf shirt is a good start.
  • Find shade – or make it. Picnic under a tree, read beneath an umbrella, take a canopy to the beach. Keep infants in the shade – they lack tanning pigments (melanin) to protect their skin.
  • Plan around the sun. If your schedule is flexible, go outdoors in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky. UV radiation peaks at midday, when the sun is directly overhead.
  • Sunglasses are essential. Not just a fashion accessory, sunglasses protect your eyes from UV radiation, a cause of cataracts.

Read more at EWG’s 2011 Sunscreen Guide and check out their Hall of Shame to find the products you should definitely be avoiding.

We can also protect ourselves from the sun naturally by avoiding toxic chemicals in sunscreens, using natural ingredients and eating foods that protect against sun damage.

There has been an increase in awareness about the use of chemicals in personal care products and their effects. As a result, there has been more emphasis on researching natural substances. Much of the research only proves knowledge already known from generations past, but there are also very interesting new findings that prove the power of the natural world.

  • Green Tea polyphenols, a substance rich in antioxidants that forms part of the green tea leaves, has been mainstream news for awhile now. Research continues to be done today for using green tea for many conditions, including sun protection. (Yusuf et al.) Green tea high in polyphenols has shown to provide internal and external protection from UV radiation and in turn, photo aging.
  • Black tea gel, another ingredient more recently talked about, was studied for its absorption of ultraviolet rays. The study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science (Dec. 2007) tested exposed skin of six subjects with an artificial source of UV light. Those participants with black tea gel on their skin were unaffected by the radiation, while the subjects with nothing on their skin started seeing reddening after four hours of exposure. (Turkoglu et al)
  • Broccoli extract has been studied extensively for its anti-cancerous effects as a food. A recent study has shown that applying broccoli extract topically, which is rich in an antioxidant ingredient called sulphoraphane, gave subjects protection against inflammation and redness caused by UV light. The research showed that instead of absorbing the radiation, the sulphoraphane penetrated the body and helped cells protect themselves against the damages of UV light, even three days after its application. (Talalay et al)

That is why the best kind of protection after all is what you put in your body. Foods like the ones mentioned above, like green tea and broccoli that have been proven to be anti-cancer, are a good start to add to any diet. If those are not to your liking, or you can’t get the kids to eat broccoli, maybe some pasta with tomato sauce will do. Studies have also been done on foods high in carotenoids, such as tomatoes. The research has shown that tomatoes cooked with olive oil, are said to release these carotenoids that can supply the body with some sun protection, what could be an SPF of 2 or 3. (Stahl W. et al)

Source: Natural Sun Protection: Research Shows Efficacy Using Natural Ingredients as Sunscreen

Above all, do not be afraid to get out in the sun. Being outdoors is incredibly healthy for you and your family, just use some common sense and smart sun protection!

My Green Side’s web pick of the week:

The Body Smart Blog
Brought to you by the Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play (HSBS) — The Body Smart Blog is the place for people interested in early childhood education and development. You’ll find useful and interesting articles, interviews, activity ideas, book reviews and more — you never know what fun you’ll find at The Body Smart Blog.

One of my favorite articles: 5 Tips to “Green” Your Physical Activity

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