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Sunscreen - which to choose

By Denise Elliot

New Zealand is still one of the worst countries in the world for horrific skin cancers, and destructive UV rays are the main cause.

Is the word still getting put out there to protect your skin from these damaging UV rays? Of course the summer sun is harshest, but even during the winter months the sun can still damage our skin.

Use of sunscreen

For those that have been burnt severely by being too long in the sun you will remember that at the time it is happening, you often don’t notice it. It is only later when the sun goes down, and then ouch and the seriousness of the situation becomes a very sore reality.

Any product needs to be reapplied after excessive sweating or swimming. Plan your time around the sun, find shade, wear light clothing, and sunglasses are important, as yes you can get melanoma in the eye. Basically don’t get burnt! Seek first aid help if necessary.

The old sunscreen from last year is probably not a good option, as it may not still offer the protection you are hoping for.

Sun protection factor

The higher the sun protection factor (SPF) levels the increased possibility that the product contains parabens and other chemicals. A sunscreen with around 25 SPF offers a good cover, generally without needing the extra chemicals used in the higher SPF products.

Sunscreens are made in two ways - either a mineral block, such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or other chemical inclusions. They have all been shown to offer broad spectrum protection against UVA & UVB rays.

Chemicals in sunscreens

Chemicals in sunscreens deserve close scrutiny because most are known to permeate the skin to some degree. Laboratory studies of some sunscreen chemicals indicate that they may mimic hormones and may disrupt the hormonal system. A European study in 2010 involving 54 breastfeeding mothers detected UV filter chemicals present in 85.2% of breastmilk samples.

Oxybenzone is an example of a chemical found in some sunscreens. It may act like oestrogen/estrogen in the body and has also shown sperm production changes in small animals. It also shows high rates of skin allergic reactions.

Preliminary investigations of human populations suggest a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and its metabolites in the body, and an increased risk of endometriosis.

While the number of chemicals in many of our daily personal care products is ridiculously excessive, there is no doubt that skin cancer is a horrific scenario, and it is important to protect our skin from damaging UV rays. It is then our own informed choice as to whether we choose a chemical or mineral sunblock. There has been no evidence of hormone disruption with mineral sunblocks.