The truth about sunscreen
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If you follow my facebook page or twitter stream, you would have seen a link to an article earlier this week about celebrity chef, Pete Evans. Pete is known for his forthright views on nutrition, espousing a Paleo diet and sprouting the virtues of activated almonds, among other things.
In a recent Q&A session on his facebook page, he shared his thoughts on sunscreen and his belief that it should not be used, due to the many potentially dangerous chemicals present. Indeed, he doesn’t use sunscreen himself, save for a alternate formulation called Surf Mud.
I don’t often agree with Pete (and spoiler alert, I don’t agree with him here either!) but you can’t deny that sunscreen is a concoction of chemicals. That is what it is.
It’s also unclear whether the newer nanoparticles used in modern sunscreens pose a long-term health risk. Obviously it’s always best to use natural products where possible, especially if they are as effective as chemical alternatives.
However, as with everything in life, you need to approach things in the context of risk management. Everything comes with an inherent risk – it’s up to you to weigh up whether the risks of one thing outweigh the benefits of another.
And when it comes to sunscreen, natural remedies are simply not as effective as their chemical counterparts in protecting the skin from sun damage and skin cancer.
Which is where I have to part from my mate, Pete.
Taking a risk management approach
Everything in life carries a risk. But you need to balance up the likelihood of a specific risk occurring with the consequence it poses should it actually occur.
For me, with my fair hair and skin, the likelihood of skin cancer is high. In fact, I’ve already had three skin cancers removed so it’s more an inevitability than a likelihood. Whereas, the likelihood of suffering long-term effects from sunscreen is low. So far, I have not experienced any problems with sunscreen after 40 years of use.
Likewise, the consequence of developing skin cancer is potentially catastrophic for me. With the basal cell carcinomas I’ve already had removed, I bear the scars on my face and my back. I can only imagine the cost if melanoma ever came along – far more costly than any risk that using sunscreen may pose.
Albinism & sun protection
For my son, who has oculocutaneous albinism, sunscreen is a daily part of his life. With little to no melanin present in his body, he lacks the basic level of sun protection that most of us enjoy. He needs to limit his time in the sun and is dependent on wearing sunscreen, hat, glasses and long sleeves all year round, just to undertake normal activities.
As a parent, I take a risk management approach with his healthcare as well as with the health of his sisters. I need to balance the advantages and disadvantages of each decision I make. And from the first day we received his diagnosis, we have made the decision to use sunscreen.
I consider the benefits of using sunscreen far outweigh any potential risks. For me, it makes sense to protect myself and my family from the harsh Australian sun. Especially my son, who needs all the extra protection he can muster.
However, I encourage everyone to undertake research to ensure you know what is in your sunscreen and ensure you are comfortable in your decision to use, or not use, chemical protection. If you do decide to use sunscreen, here are some tips for selecting the right product for you and how to use it properly.
7 tips for selecting & using sunscreen
Our dermatologist recommended the following guidelines for selecting and using sunscreen (which are echoed by the Australian College of Dermatologists). This advice has served us well over the last 12 years.
- select a broad spectrum lotion – these protect from both UVA and UVB radiation.
- select a product with a physical barrier – these are reflectants that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to provide a physical barrier to UV radiation. (N.B. these are the sunscreens containing nanoparticles but they are the most effective).
- select a product with a high SPF (sun protection factor) – 50+ is the highest available in Australia.
- apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going into the sun – all sunscreens require time to be fully absorbed in order to activate and provide maximum sun protection.
- apply 1 tsp of sunscreen to each part of the body – this means 1 tsp to the face, neck & ears, 1 tsp to each arm and back of the hands, 1 tsp to each leg & feet, 1 tsp to the back & shoulders and 1 tsp to the front torso.
- don’t forget to apply sun protection to thinner areas of the skin – lips, eyelids, ears, nose and back of the neck.
- reapply sunscreen every 2 hours – sunscreen will lose it’s effectiveness after time exposed to the sun and to water and is best reapplied every two hours – remember the 1 tsp rule.
I am not a dermatologist and I cannot recommend particular sunscreens, but the following either contain titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, or have been medically formulated to provide robust chemical protection from the sun.
What are your thoughts on sunscreen? Have you ever researched it in detail? And what are your thoughts on my mate, Pete?