News Flash: Concerns About Sunscreen and Eight Science-Backed Ways to Up Your Joy

Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at new data that suggests chemicals from sunscreens are entering the bloodstream at unsafe levels, eight daily techniques that have been shown to increase joy, and a powerful health perk of that to-do list.

Is your sunscreen toxic?

Just in time for swimsuit season: New U.S. Food and Drug Administration data has revealed that chemicals in sunscreens are being absorbed into the body at levels that raise concerns about toxicity.

Agency testing published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that levels of four common sunscreen chemicals—oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule, which absorb radiation—increased dramatically in the bloodstream after subjects applied sprays, lotions and creams for four days, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report.

These levels far exceeded the FDA-set thresholds, which require topical medications to undergo safety studies. The concern is that these chemicals—oxybenzone in particular—might disrupt normal hormone patterns in people. Oxybenzone has been found in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood.

While dermatologists say it’s important for manufacturers to safety test their products, they’re concerned that some people will stop wearing sunscreens altogether, which would pose a serious risk for melanoma and other skin cancers.

Instead, they suggest opting for mineral sunscreens that use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect sunlight from the skin rather than absorb it.

Learning to be happy

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine for many people. Lots of us struggle to find the silver lining in those rain clouds.

But the good news, researchers tell NPR, is that a series of eight practices can teach you how to have a more positive attitude, which can lead to less anxiety and depression.

A new study of caregivers who had the challenging job of caring for loved ones with dementia discovered that a five-week course that centered on eight skills decreased depression scores by 16 percent and anxiety by 14 percent.

The story describes the concrete way these practices—from mindfulness to reframing events to performing small acts of kindness—decreased the participants’ stress and improved their quality of life.

Here’s a quick summary of the eight techniques used in the study:

  1. Take a moment to identify one positive event each day.
  2. Tell someone about the positive event or share it on social media to savor it a little
  3. Start a gratitude journal and aim to fill it with small things such as a good cup of coffee, nice weather, etc.
  4. Identify a personal strength and reflect on how you’ve used this strength today or recently.
  5. Set a small daily goal and track your progress. When we feel we’re progressing toward a goal, we have more positive emotions, the study’s author said.
  6. Practice “positive reappraisal” by identifying an event or daily activity that is a hassle and reframing it in a more positive light. For instance, if you’re stuck in traffic, enjoy the quiet time.
  7. Do something nice for someone else each day, from small things such as a smile to giving up your seat on the train to someone.
  8. Practice mindfulness by paying attention to the present moment. You also can try a 10-minute breathing exercise to calm the mind.

The sleep-enhancing power of the to-do list

If your mind is always racing at night, taking five minutes to put together a to-do list for the next day might help you get more sleep, according to a Baylor University study in Time.

Researchers recruited 57 people to have their sleep monitored. Half were asked to write a list of things that they needed to remember to do tomorrow and over the next several days. The other half were asked to write down tasks they had completed that day and in previous days.

People who wrote down their to-do lists fell asleep nine minutes faster than those who wrote about their completed tasks. What’s more, people who wrote longer and more specific lists fell asleep faster than those who wrote shorter, more general ones.

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