The only way to safely escape the familiar interiors of our homes during this pandemic is to go outside into the fresh air, bask in the beauty of nature and get some desperately needed exercise and sunshine.
Of course, you're using safety precautions to protect yourself from the virus — walking 6 feet or more from others, wearing a mask, avoiding touching your face, washing your hands — but have you thought of the necessity of protecting your skin?
The danger of skin cancer certainly hasn't disappeared during the age of coronavirus, and using sunscreen is more important than ever, experts say.
Melanoma, one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer, has been on the rise globally for decades. And while survival rates are getting better, melanoma is still the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States.
But before you slather on some sunscreen, you might want to check out the 2020 list of safer sunscreens put out by the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, a consumer organization that advocates for sunscreen safety.
"This year, 75% of the SPF [sun protection factor] products EWG assessed still contained worrisome ingredients and/or do not provide adequate sun protection," said Nneka Leiba, vice president of healthy living science at EWG.
And maybe you'll want to try the old-fashioned "slip, slap, slop and wrap" technique suggested to CNN by Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society: "Slip on a long-sleeve shirt, slap on a wide-brimmed hat, slop sunscreen on exposed skin and use UV-protective sunglasses that wrap around the eyes when out in the sun."
That's because choosing a safe sunscreen isn't as simple as popping into a store (mask on, of course) and grabbing the nearest option off the shelf.
Last year the US Food and Drug Administration called for additional testing of a dozen common sunscreen ingredients after finding that alarming levels of six of them can enter a person's bloodstream after just one day of use — and then last in the bloodstream for seven to 21 days.
"What is most alarming about these findings is that chemicals are absorbing into the body in significant amounts and the ingredients have not been fully tested for safety," said EWG senior scientist David Andrews in a CNN interview done when the study was released last year.
At the time, the Personal Care Products Council and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association countered: "The presence of these ingredients in plasma does not suggest a safety issue, and there were no serious drug-related adverse events reported in the trial."
One popular ingredient used in US chemical sunscreens, oxybenzone, was absorbed into the body at about "50 to 100 times higher concentration" than the others tested in the 2019 study, Andrews said.
Research has shown a potential link between oxybenzone and lower testosterone levels in adolescent boys, hormone changes in men, shorter pregnancies and disrupted birth weights in babies. However, researchers cautioned about assuming an association between exposure and those outcomes.
A 2008 Swiss study found oxybenzone or one of four other sunscreen chemicals in 85% of breast milk samples, sparking concern that newborns could be exposed. A 2010 study found another of the studied chemicals, octinoxate, in breast milk.
Also in 2008, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed urine collected from Americans by a government study and found oxybenzone in 97% of the samples.
Then there's the possible environmental impact: Studies find that oxybenzone and octinoxate appear to damage coral reefs. Both Florida and Hawaii have placed restrictions on the use of sunscreens with those ingredients.
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