Now, do you or do you not want skin like Nicole Kidman? If the answer is yes – sorry, but you’re going to have to wear sunscreen. Nicole is a staunch supporter of SPF, so much so that she wears SPF 100 every day. Dermatologists swear by sunscreen as the ultimate skin saver, and especially for Kiwis and Aussies – it’s twice as important with the sun being 10% stronger than anywhere else. But sunscreen doesn’t come without its downfalls.
We’ve all heard that the average sunscreen kills the reef, with oxybenzone leaching into the ocean and being absorbed by coral reefs, which causes DNA damage and death of coral, along with coral bleaching.
But it also could be toxic to humans too. A new study performed by Valisure, a pharmacy that tests products before they are released to consumers, found that 27% of the 294 over-the-counter sunscreens they tested contained benzene, a carcinogen i.e. known to cause cancer in humans, and mostly linked to blood cancers like leukaemia.
Some sunscreens were found to have over 3 times the FDA limit of benzene. Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, the associate professor of dermatology at Yale University, says that there is no safe level of benzene that can exist in sunscreen products. “Even benzene at 0.1 ppm in a sunscreen could expose people to excessively high nanogram amounts of benzene.”
But don’t freak out too much – this appears to be a contaminant in the manufacturing process, and not a breakdown product from the sunscreen. At any rate, you should check your sunblock, and if the benzene level is over 2ppm (parts per million) you should keep it as far away from your skin as possible! The main offenders are Neutrogena and CVS sunscreens, and most of the benzene products in question are sprays, but La Roche Posay also had its Anthelios Spray SPF60 on the list – and La Roche Posay is a brand I normally swear by! You can’t be too careful.
Sunblock has also been shown to cause hair loss in people who use facial sunscreen every day. I was first alerted to this by my hairdresser, who told me that he had a client that lost a considerable amount of hair from her hairline. After visiting a dermatological conference, he suggested to his client to stop using her facial sunscreen, and bingo – she stopped losing hair (but had to religiously stay out of the sun)!
This is called frontal fibrosing alopecia, and is mostly common in post-menopausal Caucasian women, but is becoming increasingly common amongst people of all ages and ethnicities. So far there is insufficient evidence to pinpoint what about sunscreen could cause this skin condition, but we know that a contact allergy to fragrances in skincare causes the same issue – so perhaps its best to steer clear of perfumed sunscreen.
From what we know, the worst possible outcome is still skin cancer, which you get by not wearing SPF at all. I cannot stress how important it is to slip, slop, slap (an Antipodean pro-sunscreen campaign) and wear a good amount of clothing coverage! Stay out of the sun when you can – as a freckled person, I swear by fake-tan, because Lorde knows I’ve been burned hard enough to get blisters. The fact is, I can look great without spending one minute in the sun, and all I need is patience, a good tanning mitt, and a 4-hour nap for the colour to set in. Personally, that sounds better than skin cancer.
You should be using SPF50+ mineral sunscreen, and you should be using it every day. Not only is it good for the reef, but it’s also good for your skin – it’s not contaminated with benzene; it doesn’t cause acne or hair loss; it stops you getting wrinkles and skin damage like pigmentation; and it protects you so you can continue having fun in the sun, and avoid S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the sunblock front, but for now, slop on some SPF and get to the beach. It’s good for you… as long as it’s not contaminated with benzene!