It may be hard to tell, given my mystery-ingredient spattered shirt and 3 day ponytail, but I actually care about the way I look. Okay, maybe not TODAY, but at least on Sundays, holidays, my wedding anniversary, annnnnnd a few days in between. What can I say? I want my husband to look at me and say “wow” every once in awhile.
Back when I gave up daily sunscreen use I confess I wondered if I’d look like a wrinkly prune in 20 years. Turns out, I probably did myself a favor.
Nanoparticles Linked To Increased Skin Aging, Cancer, and Environmental Toxicity
Many of the new generation of sunscreens – and this includes almost all “healthy” mineral sunscreens listed by the Environmental Working Group – contain titanium and/or zinc nano particles.
Because these minerals are non-toxic in their natural forms it was assumed these mini-sized versions would be equally safe. That was probably a bad idea. Here’s why:
- Accelerated Skin Aging – When researchers applied titanium nanoparticles to pigs’ ears for 60 days, the nanoparticles penetrated the skin and became widely distributed in tissues, crossing the blood brain barrier and entering the liver, while inducing significant changes in the skin. “The skin and liver displayed the most severe pathological lesions due to the oxidative stress that was induced by the deposited nanoparticles. These researchers warned that prolonged use of TiO2 nanoparticles would lead to significant skin aging as the nanoparticles significantly reduced the collagen content of the skin.” (Sunscreen: Biohazard, pg. 90. Emphasis mine)
- DNA Damage – In a study which exposed pregnant mice to titanium nanoparticles, the babies born had a high number of deletions in their DNA. Now, the most common response I’ve seen to “studies on mice” is: “But those are mice! Mice aren’t people! If I listened to every study about how things affect mice, NOTHING would be safe.” And we often go about our lives, assuming that such studies can’t be taken seriously. The truth is, though, according to a Cornell University study in 2001, development proceeds in the same manner “across many mammalian species, including human infants.”
- Increases Free Radicals That Cause Cancer – Titanium nanoparticles have been shown to “induce ROS and oxidative stress leading to genetoxicity (DNA damage) in human epidermal cells.” (Sunscreen: Biohazard. Emphasis mine) A chemical is classified as a carcinogen based on whether it has the ability to induce DNA damage. Additional resources: PubMed Study, Vanity Fair: Study Says Many Sunscreens May Be Accelerating Cancer, More Bad News About Sunscreen Safety: Nanoparticles, Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles in Sunscreen Could Increase Skin Cancer Risk
- Increased Mortality Rate – Titanium photodegrades rapidly when exposed to sunlight, and there is now evidence that it may become toxic in the process. When researchers exposed the African clawed frog to a combination of titanium nanoparticles and UV light it created a toxic effect which led to a significant decrease in the survival of the frog. (November 2010 30th Annual Meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC))
- Toxic To The Environment – According to the Environmental Working Group “Studies suggest that nanomaterials are toxic in the environment to fish and other aquatic life and can damage organs when they enter the bloodstream after being absorbed through the skin, lungs or gut. ”
Are you suddenly feeling the urge to shout “Sunshine! Roses!“???? I’m sorry, talking about this stuff isn’t fun for me either. This post actually started out as a post on sunscreen recommendations, but I was so surprised by all the problems with the “healthy” ones that I felt it deserved a post. Fortunately, there is at least one I can wholeheartedly recommend. I’ll be sharing it with you tomorrow along with my recipe for homemade sunscreen.
But first, how about one more surprising fact you won’t find on the label?
Sunscreens Protect From Only 4% Of The Spectrum
That’s right, four percent – and that’s the “full-spectrum” ones! And now that the chemicals used to filter UVA rays are under intense scrutiny manufacturers are turning to nanoparticles and labeling their products as “natural” mineral sunscreens. Like their more bulky parent versions, these particles are far more effective at blocking UVA (long rays that penetrate deep into the skin) in addition to UVB rays (which interact with the skin to form Vitamin D) than most synthetics.
This is not as impressive as it sounds, though, because there are currently no mineral or chemical sunscreens that are effective at filtering Infrared Radiation (IR), which is a huge part of what we are exposed to:
- UVA/UVB – 4% of the spectrum (sunscreens cover this)
- Infrared Radiation – 47% (sunscreens do not cover this)
- Visible light – 49% of the spectrum
The thing about this is that historically, redness and swelling (a sunburn) used to be our bodies way of letting us know we needed to spend more time in the shade. Sun is good, but like most things moderation is key. Problem is, now that we can prevent sunburns with UVB filters some experts believe that we have disabled the alarm that’s supposed to tell us when we’ve had enough.
Personally, I like my alarm to function so I try to get my sunscreen through food and go inside before I burn. However, there are times when that’s just not possible (Or desirable. Hello Cabo San Lucas!). On those days I definitely cover up or use sunscreen. But instead of eating junk food because I’m “on vacation” I keep up a nutrient-dense diet because – YAY! – researchers think antioxidants are our best defense against IR radiation.¹ The sunscreen recipe I’ll be sharing tomorrow contains two antioxidant powerhouses for this very reason.