Is Your Sunscreen Doing More Damage Than Good?

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=sunscreen&iid=5283979″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”234″ /]

With the official start of summer, I thought is was a good time to talk about sunscreen.  You know the importance of sunscreen, but do you know that most sunscreens contain chemicals that are potentially hazardous to your health?  I only found out this out a few years ago.  Every single one of the sunscreen products I had in my house, or had used in the past on a regular basis, had chemical ingredients.  Yikes!

Sunscreen, as we know it, is a brand-new invention, considering how long the sun has been around.  The first sunscreen (although not really effective) was developed in 1944, most likely because World War II soldiers began to notice the effects of all the sun exposure from their time in the Pacific.

Why are we only hearing about the dangers of conventional sunscreen now?  The FDA still hasn’t hammered down the regulations on sunscreen that started in 1978!  The sunscreen industry has gone largely unregulated–no wonder it has taken so long for consumers to find out that the lotions, sprays, and creams they had been slathering on all those years have included some questionable ingredients.

The Environmental Working Group is a company dedicated to protecting consumer health, and in addition to reviewing beauty products, reviews the safety of sunscreen.  According to the EWG’s website, their research team found that “92 percent of brand name sunscreens either don’t sufficiently protect skin from sun damage or contain hazardous chemicals — or both.”

In an attempt to protect our skin, have we been doing more harm than good?  Even though there is a greater awareness of the dangers of chemical sunscreen, lots of folks–and I was one of them–still go for the conventional stuff, which is evident by how many chemical sunscreens are on the shelves.  I want you to be an informed sunscreen user, so here’s the lowdown on sunscreen safety:

Chemical sunscreens…

  • Work by absorbing the sun’s rays.
  • Penetrate the skin to some degree and can create free radicals inside the skin, which can lead to skin damage!
  • Often only protect from either UVB rays (causes surface sunburns) or UVA rays (causes damage deep beneath skin, premature aging), but not both.

Physical sunscreens…

  • Block the sun’s rays by scattering or reflecting UV light.
  • Are made up of particles usually too large to penetrate the skin, sit on top of skin instead.
  • Protect your skin from both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays.

Things to avoid in your sunscreen…

  • Oxybenzone (may be listed as Benzophenone-3). Found in 60% of sunscreens in the U.S.  Studies show this chemical may disrupt hormones and alter reproductive organs.  Do not use on children!  Can also cause allergic reactions and penetrates the skin in large amounts.
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC). Used in 40% of sunscreens.  Interferes with thyroid and hormones.
  • Padimate O. This is a derivative of PABA, carries some health concerns related to DNA damage.
  • Vitamin A or Retinyl Palmitate. Added to 41% of sunscreens, Vitamin A might cause cancer when applied to skin and exposed to sunlight.
  • Bug repellent. Chemical sunscreens often contain ingredients to help penetrate your skin.  If bug repellent is also in the mix, you’ll be absorbing that too.  If bug bites are a concern, use a natural form of repellent first, then apply sunscreen.
  • SPF above 50. SPF above 30 has been found to be no more effective, and people tend to think they can spend longer in the sun with a single application of  SPF 50 or 100, and end up with the same incidence of burns.
  • Sunscreen in the form of spray or powder. The concern is in inhaling the sunscreen.  Even a sunscreen that is perfectly safe for your skin is not safe for your lungs.  Best to only use cream sunscreens.

Ingredients to look for in sunscreen…[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=sunscreen&iid=268871″ src=”″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]

  • Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Offer broad spectrum UV protection.
  • Avobenzone (also called Parsol 1789) or Mexoryl SX. These are newer ingredients said to be very effective in blocking UVA rays.

Practice safe sunscreen!

  • Make sure you apply sunscreen liberally (about 1 ounce ) every hour or two, especially after sweating, swimming, or rubbing skin.
  • Higher SPF doesn’t mean you can stay out longer in the sun!
  • You still run the risk of getting burned on overcast days.
  • Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your ears, hands, and feet.  Your scalp is vulnerable too.
  • The sun’s rays are strongest from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
For more detailed information on sunscreen, including safety ratings, check out the Environmental Working Group’s 2010 Sunscreen Guide.


My Quest for a Natural Allergy Solution, Part 3


April 22, 2010

This is the day of reckoning.  I am to find out if my body responded to the Sublingual Immunotherapy and whether I can be declared free of my cat allergies.  A couple of hours before my appointment, I get a phone call from the allergist at the ear, nose, and throat doctor’s office.  It’s disappointing news: There will be no allergy test, my doctor wants to keep me on a maintenance plan for a while longer. I’ll just be going in to get my new vial and worksheet.  Oh well.  I’ll do whatever I’m supposed to in order to lead an allergy-free life.

I arrive at the ENT office and, as usual, find it amusing and slightly sad that everyone knows who I am by name and/or face.  If this was a different place of business, I’d feel honored.  But in my case it means I’ve had way too many health issues.  I love the ladies who work here, but I’d rather not have to see them so frequently.  When the doctor comes into my room, I tell her I haven’t experienced any allergy attacks (except one day) or sinus infections.  She is pleased but explains that my therapy is not over, and I need to continue with a maintenance plan.  I actually wasn’t supposed to have a break in the therapy–I guess there was a little misunderstanding on that point. I share that I’ve blogged about my experience in searching for a natural allergy solution, and that I had told my readers I was getting a skin allergy test today.  Being the lovely, supportive woman she is, the doctor offered to let me take the test.  Yes!!

This time around, I took a picture of all the allergens that comprise the skin allergy test.  It’s always nice to know what you’re being poked with, and I thought you folks might be interested in the multitudes of things that create allergy misery for so many people.  In section A, histamine is the control, and will create a welt on everyone.  So obviously, a raised welt appeared on my arm almost immediately following a burning/itching sensation.  No other welts appeared. May I just point out the implications of that last statement?  No other welts appeared apart from the control, meaning no reaction to the cat hair allergen, meaning no more allergies to cats! Heck yeah!  I was so excited, I gave my fabulous allergist Tina a high-five.

When you click on the photos for a larger view, make sure to use the “back arrow” button on your browser to return to this post.  I can’t make a new window appear for photo galleries.

I will continue to take the maintenance drops for 3 weeks, using the same protocol as the previous times, and then continue using 3 drops/day for 6 weeks after that.  I suppose the purpose is to further strengthen my tolerance.

I am so pleased to share this awesome news with all of you.  Not just because I seem to be cured, but that my journey might help some of you who are suffering for many months out of the year from severe allergies and sinus infections.  I’m ecstatic to find a natural solution to allergies.  I loathed the idea of dependence on over-the-counter allergy meds, which have side effects like drowsiness, excitability, dryness of throat and sinuses, and who knows what else–not to mention weird ingredients and dyes.  There’s no guarantee that this therapy will work for you, but I’m thinking that if it helped me–who was a serious case with a troublesome health history–there’s a good chance you’ll benefit as well.

While my drop therapy was for cat allergies, it can be prepared to combat allergies to grasses, trees, pollens, and animals.  It does not treat food allergies.  Contact an allergist or ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor to discuss how sublingual immunotherapy can work for you.


My Quest for a Natural Allergy Solution, Part 2


December 29, 2009

I am once again back at the doctor’s office because of my crummy sinuses.  I have an infection again, and I’m truly at my wit’s end.  I feel sick all the time; my eyes are watering, my nose is running, my throat is sore.  I’m convinced there are remnants of Rice Krispies cereal I ate as a kid in my sinuses–there’s a lovely snap, crackle, and pop sound every time my head changes elevation.  It’s almost impossible to work or exercise or to do anything really.  The doctor asks me how I’m doing and I begin to cry.  It’s embarrassing, but I might as well show her how I really feel.

As she tries to relieve my congestion with some saline inserts in each nostril–they’re about 1½ inches long, I think I’ll leave it at that–I tell her I’m ready to try allergy shots, which I’ve been avoiding.  I’ve read that allergy shots must be administered several times a week for a minimum of 6 months, and maintenance can take 3-5 years.  The doctor surprises me with information that there is an easier and less invasive option available…Sublingual Immunotherapy.

Sublingual Immunotherapy is the same idea as allergy shots but is administered in very diluted quantities, and is more effective, natural, and convenient.  The only ingredients are the allergen (for me, it’s straight-up cat hair) and glycerin, and you take this under the tongue.  Dosing yourself with the very thing that makes you sick may sound a little crazy, but it’s the basis of homeopathic medicine. Homeopathy is based on the theory that substances causing symptoms of illness in healthy people will act as a cure when given in very dilute amounts to sick people who show those same symptoms.

How they made my allergy therapy:

  1. One measure of pure allergen (cat hair) is added to a small vial of glycerin (called Vial A–most concentrated)
  2. One drop is taken from Vial A and added to Vial B
  3. One drop is taken from Vial B and added to Vial C
  4. One drop is taken from Vial C and added to Vial D (most diluted)

“Fun” fact:  With dog allergies, they have to determine to which breed(s) the patient is sensitive.  Cat hair is apparently all the same.  Interesting.

Method:  I will start with Vial D, taking 1 drop under my tongue each day for a week, then 2 drops/day for one week, then 3 drops/day for one week.  I need to keep notes of any reactions I have on the worksheet they give me.  After my worksheet is complete, I go to the doctor to get Vial C and a new worksheet and repeat the same process, and continue with this regimen for Vial B and A.  After 12 weeks, my body should have built up an immunity to cat dander and I will hopefully be cured.  I’ll need to get another skin allergy test at that time to determine if it worked.  There’s no guarantee, but I’ll take that chance.  The doctor gives me a prescription for an EpiPen in case I have a severe allergic reaction.  Fun.

I diligently took my drops every day, I didn’t want to screw this up.  One day in March as the weather started to change, I had an all-day allergy attack, which for me (99% of the time) precedes a sinus infection.  Fortunately that never happened.  Other than that, I really had no sinus problems.  I continued to use my neti pot, which I will probably always use since it keeps the sinuses healthy.  But as the weeks went on, I had to use the neti pot less and less.  In Part 3, I will reveal the results of my post-therapy skin allergy test.  I’m getting it done tomorrow…wish me luck!


My Quest for a Natural Allergy Solution, Part 1


This is a three-part series.  I’ll post Part 2 on Wednesday and Part 3 on Friday.  If you or loved ones are suffering from allergies, make sure you don’t miss out on any pieces of the puzzle!

November 9, 2009

This is the third time I’ve been to the ear, nose, and throat doctor this year.  All for the same ailment…sinus problems, which I’ve been getting every couple of months for about 2 ½ years.  In case you’ve never experienced one–lucky you–these are the lovely symptoms:  inflamed nasal cavities, intense sinus pressure and soreness, migraines, incessant sneezing, and mucus flow akin to Niagara Falls.  Not cute…or fun.  I try to visit the doctor ASAP because my life-long history of ear problems make them susceptible to infection.  I’ve been searching for an answer to my sinus woes.  I’ve found holistic methods to keep infections at bay (or short-lived when I get them) by using a neti pot, therapeutic oil 1, oil 2, homeopathic nasal spray, Vitamin C, and olive leaf supplements.  Nonetheless, I am experiencing way too many to be acceptable.  On this visit, I’m happy to hear that my ears are unaffected.  She is actually surprised and says whatever I had done, worked (yay holistic remedies!).  But there was still that nagging question of how to eliminate my sinus infections altogether.  I ask the doctor if allergies could be instigating my sinus flare-ups.  She replies absolutely and that I should have a skin allergy test.  I feel hopeful that perhaps the mystery will be solved.

The technician comes in and swabs both undersides of my forearms with alcohol, then marks on my right arm “A” (top) and “B” (bottom), and labels my left forearm “C” (top) and “D” (bottom).  She then brings out a six-pronged apparatus tinged with brown liquid and sticks in into my skin in the “A” section.  It feels like one of those round, prickly brushes being pressed into my skin.  The same method is used for the other sections, using three more apparatuses, each one containing different allergens.  I don’t ask which one is which, just in case my mind has the power to mess with the results (you never know!).  She warns me that if I have a reaction, I will get welts on my skin and intense itching, but I’m not allowed to scratch.  The technician sets the timer for 15 minutes and leaves me to await my fate.

Photo #1

Within five minutes, welts appear (photo #1) in the section marked “A”…

Photo #2

and only get slightly bigger (photo #2) over the next 10 minutes.

Photo #3

Nothing happens in the other sections (photo #3).

I have a sneaking suspicion of what allergen “A” is because I had recently been seeing the same kind of welts appear on my eyelids on more than a few occasions.  So what am I allergic to?  I was tested for pollen, dust mites, and mold, but I react to the…

Hutch (R) laying on Starsky (L) who is not amused

cat hair, crap, I was right!  We have two big, beautiful 3 ½ year old cats named Starsky and Hutch, and my husband and I consider them to be our children.  I had never experienced sinus infections before adopting them.  They are “domestic shorthairs,” which only means their hair is short in length, not in quantity.

Hutch giving us some Bette Davis eyes

Don't be fooled...Starsky is a BIG boy!

Starsky’s coat is so thick, a brushing session requires me to clean his brush twice and still be able to pick up more hair!  It doesn’t help that I like to bury my face in their soft coats…hence the eyelid welts.  But I didn’t have these reactions to them all the time, so I wasn’t sure if my symptoms were due to the critters.  Anyway, getting rid of them is not an option, but neither is having to suffer for the next 12 or so years of their lives.  “What am I supposed to do?” I ask the doctor.  She says I can take the OTC drugs X or Y to control my allergies.  I really don’t like the idea of depending on drugs, especially for such a long time, so I ask her if she knows of any possible natural remedies.  She immediately recommends I try quercetin, which is a flavonoid found in certain fruits and vegetables.  Encouraged by her suggestion, I set out in search of the supplement.  There are many options, some with various added supplements.  Not sure which kind is best, I choose a liquid form with nothing added.  Since I’ve started taking quercetin, I am happy to report that I have had no allergic episodes (I continue to use the neti pot a couple of times a week–I’ve read that chronic sinus sufferers may have cilia in the nasal and sinus cavities that don’t perform well).  Let me repeat that last statement:  I have had no allergic episodes…none!  Recently, I had had some sort of episode every other day! This is HUGE!  Maybe I can live a normal, happy life in my home with my big, furry bundles of cuteness!

There are two lessons I have learned from this whole experience:

  1. Ask your doctor specific questions.  First do your own “scientific research”/detective work on what’s ailing you, and bring your findings or possible theories to your doctor.  Perhaps there is something you never thought to tell them before or the doctor never thought to ask.
  2. Ask for what you want.  If you want a more natural solution to your ailments, ask your doctor if he or she could recommend a holistic option.  My doctor happens to have an interest in homeopathy and is the one who suggested I use a neti pot in the first place, but she wouldn’t have told me about quercetin if I hadn’t asked.  If more patients request natural remedies, perhaps more doctors will seek holistic options to satisfy our demands.  No one is going to look out for you better than you!

Update ~ Since you might recall this is an allergy series, you may have already guessed that this is not the end of my story.  While the quercetin did work for a couple of weeks, I noticed that its power started to diminish and began experiencing allergic symptoms once again.  I take quercetin supplements–along with Bromelain and extra Vitamin C–when I feel I need some extra support for my sinuses, but it’s not the final solution for my allergy problems.  In Part 2, I will share what happened next.


Another Helping of Primary Food? Yes, Please!

Photo by K.C. © 2010 Kristin Conroy

Lots of people are suffering right now from allergies with the change in weather.  Having allergies is akin to having a cold–sometimes worse–and it’s a good time to give yourself some TLC.  I wrote this post when I was down-for-the-count with a doozy of a sinus infection.  Read on to discover how primary nourishment can make a difference when you’re feeling under the weather….

I did something last night I really enjoy but hardly ever do…take a bath.  (And not in the tub pictured above…it’s not mine, sadly.)  The lack of frequency is mainly due to the effort and time it takes to prepare and take one.  First of all, the tub needs to be pretty darn clean.  The difference between a tub suitable for showering and a tub suitable for bathing is my feet touch the surface for only a few minutes in the former scenario and my whole body comes in contact with it for half an hour in the later.  So yeah, it needs to be pretty darn clean and the idea of cleaning usually stops me in my tracks.  When I feel the urge to take a bath, it’s because I want to relax…cleaning just doesn’t fit into that category for me.

So what made me willing to do the evil deed in return for bath time?  Sickness.  I’ve been sick for nearly two weeks and not only have I taken a knock-out punch physically, but my psyche is also down for the count.  I realized that while I’ve done pretty much everything I can for my body, I’ve been neglectful in some areas of primary nourishment.  I think we often don’t do things for ourselves that we know are beneficial–to our soul, our spirit, our essence–because it doesn’t contribute to our career, family, friends, or to-do lists.  It seems selfish, silly, and unproductive.  Well, seeing as I wasn’t fit to do anything productive (although I did clean the tub, didn’t I?), I thought I might as well indulge.

Photo by K.C. © 2010 Kristin Conroy

To create a spa-like experience, I lit candles, set my Pandora Radio to the Enigma channel, and tossed Epsom salts enhanced with a few drops of 100% therapeutic essential oil into the running water.  Ahhhh…watching the candlelight dance and flicker along the walls, reveling in the soothing beats of music, and being encased in a cocoon of warm, silky water was a little piece of heaven.

It was a great time to really pay attention to and love myself. (No, hey now, this is totally G-rated stuff I’m about to say!)  When I’m feeling under the weather or in some need of TLC, I like to have my head and face stroked.  My mom used to do this for me–along with massaging my hands and arms–at bedtime or when I was sick.  It was a loving and comforting act and served as primary food nourishment.  So I recreated this comforting moment by repeatedly dipping my hands into the water, pressing my warm hands into my face to let the heat soothe me, then sliding them over my head and neck.  Next, I noticed which parts of my body were aching and gently massaged them.  I felt I was communicating with my body at an intimate and primitive level–no words, only intuition, emotion, and touch.  Usually, I feel guilty for relaxing, but I gave myself permission to be totally present in the moment.  I made a promise that I would not wait until my body forced me to be still before I took meaningful time for myself.

I think we could all use some more primary nourishment, even if it’s small and you have to do it yourself.  That could mean listening to music that touches your soul, giving yourself a foot massage, going through your most cherished pictures, meditating, even taking slow, deep breaths.  So, did taking this “me-time” cure my woes?  No.  I was still sick.  Was it worth the time and effort?  Heck yeah.  I was delightfully warm, I felt peaceful and relaxed, and the corners of my mouth had set in an upward and locked position.  Little acts of self-kindness– even ones that seem too simple and unworthy–are sometimes the most rewarding and powerful.