The sunscreen myth

Now that summer is upon us, many are itching to get outside. Due to the not-so-sunny climate of Portland, many are escaping to warmer places in order to “catch a few rays.”

Now that summer is upon us, many are itching to get outside. Due to the not-so-sunny climate of Portland, many are escaping to warmer places in order to “catch a few rays.” Of course, there are obvious health risks that come with tanning, so many often lather up with sunscreen in order to be protected from those scary ultraviolet rays.

But wait before you slather on the SPF 49,000. Shockingly, a recent study has just revealed an astonishing fact—some sunscreens may actually speed up the development of cancer and lesions on tanners.

A study conducted by the Environmental Working Group last year showed that some ingredients in sunscreen accelerate cancer development and increase the likelihood of cancer developing. So—who’s the culprit? No, they haven’t been putting asbestos in our sunscreen. Instead, they’ve been adding Vitamin A.

Vitamin A is a naturally occurring vitamin that is said to promote skin health as well as assist in many bodily functions. The substance is also advertised as an anti-oxidant, a substance that is said to protect skin against aging, free radicals and other dangers.

Yet when animals were coated in a Vitamin A-enhanced cream, they were found to develop tumors and lesions 21 percent faster than animals that were coated in a non-enhanced cream.

Over the last decade, there has been a lot of debate regarding what goes into sunscreen. Many are now questioning whether wearing a higher SPF actually affects the amount of UV rays that are blocked by the sun. The EWG’s sunscreen study for 2011 states that many sunscreens contain additives that are advertised as being effective, but might actually be comparable to soaking yourself in Crisco.

Currently, the FDA has fairly lax requirements when it comes what they label “sunscreen.” Out of 1,700 products tested by the EWG, only  20 percent actually protected skin effectively against UVA. So, what’s a sun-lover to do?

First of all—not wearing sunscreen is a terrible idea. UV rays can damage skin and cause cancer. While sun exposure does promote the body’s production of Vitamin D, you can also take supplements or eat Vitamin D-rich foods. And, while good sunscreen can be expensive, medical bills and medication are even more costly.

For those getting ready to avoid the outdoors all together, indoor tanning is an even worse idea. Indoor tanning can accelerate skin damage and turns skin the texture and color of beef jerky—while those on Jersey Shore might appreciate a good fake ‘n’ bake, the rest of the world’s population looks upon those orange beings with a mix of pity and fear. Just stay away from those scary glowing beds.

The EWG recommends carefully reading the labels on the sunscreen you buy. Look for mineral-based solutions that don’t contain oxybenzone and retinyl palminate—common names for Vitamin A. Instead, look for something that contains zinc or titanium oxide, and apply it frequently, especially when you’ve been swimming or sweating.

Clothing and hats are also effective against protecting sun from being damaged. While a big floppy hat and a t-shirt might not be as stylish as your brand new bikini, they’ll help you out in the long run. A hip pair of sunglasses is also a must when it comes to protecting yourself from the sun.

For those desperate to get a tan, build it up over a long period of time. Only stay in direct sun for a couple hours at the maximum. Also, the sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so try to avoid being in the sun too long during those hours.

While many who are staying in Portland for the summer might not need to worry too much about sun exposure, those going on vacation need only to follow these few guidelines in order to spare themselves the embarrassment of looking like a lobster when they return, as well as sparing themselves the trouble of developing a horrible disease. ?