The debate about sunscreens rages on. Dermatologists advise slathering up every day. Nutritionists and holistic doctors advise sun exposure to get vitamin D. Some even say sunscreens cause cancer, and a disturbing study showed that people who used more commercial sunscreen had more melanoma.
Where is the truth? We might never know. Sunscreen manufacturers need to sell their product and natural sunscreen companies have little money for research. The FDA is mute and has never said that sunscreens prevent skin cancer. It is clear that commercial sunscreen ingredients (like oxybenzone and methoxycinnamate) are potent hormone disrupters and potential carcinogens. My advice is to never use these commercial sunscreens.
What should you do? Be judicious and safe. Get sun exposure. It is the best and most reliable source of vitamin D. But avoid sunburn, which damages the skin and may increase your risk of skin cancer. Avoid baking in the sun at midday, especially those first days of summer or your beach vacation. Gradually build your tan. Wear a hat to protect your face from sunburn. If your kids are at camp or swimming in the afternoons in the summer, have them use a zinc oxide sunscreen. The safest sunscreen is zinc oxide. There is some concern about nano particles in mineral sunscreens, so the very safest is a non-nano zinc oxide. Many mineral sunscreens contain titanium dioxide, but suspicions have been raised over titanium dioxide because of its capability of disrupting cell growth. These mineral sunscreens are much more expensive than cheap commercial sunscreens, but well worth paying the extra cost.
Fortunately there are a number of zinc oxide sunscreens that often also contain organic herbal ingredients as well as oils and waxes that make them water resistant. Some of these brands include Badger, Soleo, Burnout, and UV Natural.
The Environmental Working Group publishes a yearly online guide to sunscreens that lists the ingredients in these products. http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/
Bottom Line: Stay safe by avoiding sunburn. Wear a hat. If you are in the sun at the beach or swimming pool, use a zinc oxide sunscreen, and reapply it after swimming.