Only 20% of the 600 different sunscreens The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed made it on to their list of recommended products. The other 80% have misleading labels or contain hormone-disrupting chemicals or ingredients that can actually accelerate the growth of skin tumors and lesions. Oy.
The EWG site has several helpful myth-busting tips about how to avoid both nasty ingredients and skin-damage.
But a couple bullet points stand out when it comes to pregnancy:
1. Get your Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important in pregnancy and lots of research is now showing most of us don’t have enough of it. One way to get it, is by exposing the maximum amount of skin to the sun. But do it early or late in the day, not at peak sun-burning hours. (You can wear a hat and sunglasses to protect the skin on your face and your eyes if you want.) Pale skinned women only need very short early morning sun “baths,” whereas darker skinned women need longer exposure to get the Vitamin D they need. Prenatal vitamins, a diet rich in oily fish, fortified foods such as milk, OJ and some cereals include Vitamin D, but a little sun can be a great way to store up on this important vitamin. Talk to your care-provider about your Vitamin D needs and how best to meet them.
2. Go for a sunscreen free of hormone-disrupting chemicals.
The primary hormone-disrupting chemical in sunscreen is OXYBENZONE. We don’t know tons about this but we know enough that the EWG doesn’t recommend this ingredient, especially for growing children. Here’s an excellent summary of the literature on oxybenzone and how it might mess with our hormones. And below is a chart showing what to look for and what to avoid in common sunscreens.
The following is the EWG guide to sunscreen safety:
Don’t be fooled by a label that boasts of high SPF. Anything higher than “SPF 50+” can tempt you to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburn but not other kinds of skin damage. FDA says these numbers are misleading. Stick to SPF 15-50+, reapply often and pick a product based on your own skin, time planned outside, shade and cloud cover.
News about Vitamin A. Eating vitamin A-laden vegetables is good for you, but spreading vitamin A on the skin may not be. New government data show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with vitamin A-laced creams. Vitamin A, listed as “retinyl palmitate” on the ingredient label, is in 33 percent of sunscreens. Avoid them.
Ingredients matter. Avoid the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body. Look for active ingredients zinc, titanium, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. These substances protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin, with little if any penetrating into the body. Also, skip sunscreens with insect repellent if you need bug spray, buy it separately and apply it first.
Pick a good sunscreen. EWG’s sunscreen database rates the safety and efficacy of about 1,700 products with SPF, including about 600 sunscreens for beach and sports. We give high ratings to brands that provide broad-spectrum, long-lasting protection with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns when the body absorbs them.
Cream, spray or powder and how often? Sprays and powders cloud the air with tiny particles of sunscreen that may not be safe to breathe. Choose creams instead. Reapply them often, because sunscreen chemicals break apart in the sun, wash off and rub off on towels and clothing.
Message for men: Wear sunscreen. Surveys show that 34 percent of men wear sunscreen, compared to 78 percent of women. Start using it now to reduce your cumulative lifetime exposure to damaging UV radiation.
Got your Vitamin D? Many people don’t get enough vitamin D, which skin manufactures in the presence of sunlight. Your doctor can test your level and recommend supplements or a few minutes of sun daily on your bare skin (without sunscreen).
To make life REALLY EASY, the EWG has listed recommended sunscreens by brand here. Take a look at which sunscreens made the cut. And have a wonderful estrogen-mimicking hormone free summer.