Natural Skin Protection

New studies show chemicals in sunscreens can seep into the bloodstream. Here’s how to keep yourself covered this season.
Bolster your defense against the sun by wearing protective clothing, staying in the shade, and choosing an SPF of 30 or more. Photo: Daria Shevtsova

By Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank and Christina DeMartino, PA

Recent media attention and concern about chemical sunscreen has made the public rethink its choices of sunscreen ingredients. We all know it is important to be well-protected from the sun, but we should also be well-informed on the risks and benefits of what we are putting onto our skin. Not all sunscreens are created equal; below are some things to remember when selecting the right sunscreen for you and your family.

There are two groups of sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens, while effective against sunburns, contain synthetic actives (oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, etc.). They work by absorbing UV rays and converting them into heat. Studies have linked chemical sunscreens to low testosterone, altered sperm function, shorter pregnancies, disrupted birth weights, hormone disruption in men and women, traces of sunscreens in breast milk, and high rates of allergic skin rashes.

Physical or mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide and are the only sunscreens that the FDA regards as generally safe and effective for daily use. They absorb UVB rays, and mostly reflect UVA rays, which cause premature aging. Mineral sunscreens have shown no evidence of hormone disruption, and penetrate the skin minimally. Many skin-care companies are replacing chemical ingredients with natural alternatives, making it easier to recommend cosmetically elegant, mineral sunscreens.

Studies to date have been inconclusive regarding the long-term risks of chemical sunscreens. We do know that these chemicals are being absorbed into our bloodstreams, and are often present at high levels due to increased daily sunscreen use. Why not choose a mineral alternative that has no evidence of harmful side effects?

In addition to applying a mineral sunscreen and reapplying every two hours, you can bolster your defense by wearing protective clothing, staying in the shade, and choosing an SPF of 30 or more, which blocks about 97 percent of UVB rays. Make sure your SPF is broad-spectrum, to shield against those deeply penetrating UVA rays that cause skin cancer and advanced aging. Stay safe in the sun this summer. Be conscious of what you are putting on your skin!

Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, is the chief medical officer and founder of PFRANKMD & Skin Salons,