Why can’t anything about health just be simple?
To be fair, a lot of it is pretty simple, and just gets unnecessarily complicated because of all the noise and misinformation. Is spending time out in the sun good for you or bad for you? Should you cake on SPF 75 sunscreen before stepping outside? Is sunscreen helping or is it full of toxic chemicals? So many questions, so little time! Let’s dive in.
SPF Is A Load Of Bologna!
Let’s start with that. And yes, we said what we said.
High SPF sunscreen is the biggest load of nonsense since oat milk was deemed “healthy.”
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is mostly just an arbitrary number that isn’t a great indicator of how well the product will block UV radiation from the sun. When looking at three different sunscreen products rated at SPF 30, 50, and 100, you would think that the SPF 100 would offer about 3X the protection of the SPF 30 product. I took math in high school–100 divided by 30 is kind of equal to 3, therefore 3x the protection, right? Wrong.
The SPF 30 product effectively blocks nearly 97% of UVB radiation, SPF 50 blocks about 98%, and SPF 100 blocks about 99%. 1% increases. I must have skipped that day of math class.
Moving on from SPF.
It wasn’t long ago that Johnson and Johnson recalled five of its sunscreen products after samples were found to contain low levels of benzene. Benzene is a highly flammable component of gasoline and a frequently used solvent for rubber and waxes. Long-term and repeated exposure to benzene can cause leukemia or other cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yikes.
The other problem with sunscreen is that its protection from sunburn actually contributes to people spending more time in the sun than they really should. You see, most sunscreen products block UVB radiation, but they do not protect from UVA radiation.
So while these products might keep you from getting sunburnt, they are not providing full protection, which means you are more likely to stay out in the sun longer than you should. A sunburn is your body’s natural way of saying, “Hey! You’ve gotten plenty of sun. Let’s get inside.”
By slathering on SPF 100, you are ignoring that signal from your body, while still absorbing plenty of damaging UVA radiation. Then there is the issue of what these sunscreen products are actually made of in order to provide their protection. Whether they use aluminum or other heavy metals used to essentially block the sun like tiny mirrors or chemicals used to neutralize sunlight before it enters your body, these substances are also being absorbed into your body via your pores.
Once they get into your body, some of these substances aren’t so great for your health.
And finally, the science linking sunscreen use to a decreased risk of developing melanoma is mixed. This study reports that sunscreen does indeed decrease your risk of developing melanomas, while this other study actually shows that sunscreen use will increase your risk.
Another interesting point to consider is that the occurrence of melanoma continues to rise year over year, despite sunscreen usage also seeing a drastic increase over the years.
The solution? Don’t avoid the sun. That’s silly. Sun exposure is essential for vitamin D production, promotes a healthy circadian rhythm, boosts mood, and keeps you healthy. Now, that doesn’t mean you go bake on the beach for eight hours straight. That’s also silly. Spend time in the sun, don’t overdo it, and if you need a good sunscreen, check out this useful guide by the Environmental Working Group.