May is National Skin Cancer Awareness month, so what better time to discuss one of the most commonly asked questions about sunscreen: is it safe? The recent bans of certain SPF ingredients in Hawaii and the Florida Keys have some people questioning whether or not sunscreen is safe to use on their skin. In short, sunscreen is safe, but there are some facts you should know.
Types of Sunscreen
There are two main types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens work by being absorbed into your skin, where a chemical reaction occurs, changing UV light into heat. That heat is then released from your skin and it does not incur UV damage.
Physical sunscreens contain mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to create a physical barrier between your skin and UV rays. These ingredients are not absorbed into the skin.
The recent sunscreen bans involve only certain ingredients found in chemical sunscreens, namely oxybenzone and octinoxate. These bans came about after speculation that these ingredients may damage coral reefs. However, more research is needed to confirm these suspicions.
Choosing a Sunscreen
If you’re concerned about potential negative effects of chemical sunscreens, your best bet is to stick with physical sunscreens. There are now many different options available, including choices from popular sunscreen brands like Neutrogena and Sun Bum that aren’t overly expensive.
Additional Sun Protection Tips
In addition to wearing sunscreen, there are lots of other things you can do to keep your skin protected from the sun’s UV rays.
- Wear sun protective clothing, like hats, lightweight long sleeves, and sunglasses.
- Seek shade whenever possible.
- Avoid going outside during peak hours, between 10 am and 2 pm.
- Stay out of tanning beds and avoid deliberate tanning outside.
At the end of the day, wearing any sunscreen is safer than exposing your skin to harmful UV rays, which have been proven to increase the risk of skin cancer. If you want to use caution or if you have sensitive skin that tends to break out with sunscreen use, try a zinc-based sunscreen instead.