Sunscreen Safety

Skiing season is coming up, and I am wondering which sunscreen to use on my kids and myself. Some types in my organic store have mineral filters rather than the chemical ones I've used for so long. Could you recommend one that is safe and actually works?

Sunscreens have either chemical or mineral filters, though sometimes you find a mix of both. Mineral filters form a physical barrier on the skin, deflecting the sunlight like little mirrors before it actually reaches the cells. Chemical filters, which are absorbed by the skin, trap the sun's radiation and convert the potentially harmful rays into heat.

There are serious concerns about the safety of chemical filters. Swiss toxicologist Margret Schlumpf found that they have hormone-like effects, altering sexual development and reproduction in rats. While further research is needed to confirm the effects on humans, the results are disquieting. Endocrine disrupters from cosmetics have been found in the environment and can accumulate in our bodies. Research from Goethe University in Frankfurt indicates that mere traces of chemical sunscreen have affected aquatic wildlife in Switzerland's Lake Zurich, and German scientists Jurgen Hany and Roland Nagel of Dresden's Institute of Hydrobiology have found chemical sun filters in breast milk. According to Silvia Schauder, a dermatologist and professor at German University Hospital in Göttingen, chemical UV filters in sunscreens are also the most common cause of photoallergic reactions in the United States and much of Europe.
Mineral filters appear to be a better choice. They protect against both UVA and UVB rays, begin to work immediately after application, and rarely cause allergic reactions. When choosing a sunscreen, look for the ingredients titanium oxide or zinc oxide, both mineral filters. Common chemical filters you might want to avoid include oxybenzone, avobenzone, oxtinoxate, homosalate, and octocrylene.

The best protection, however, is limiting exposure to direct sun, especially for children.

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