If you thought all sunscreen was created equal, then this article will shine a little light on which ones to stay away from and which ones you should be using. Sunscreen ingredients have quite the range, and some do very little to protect you from toxic chemicals that are worse for you than sun exposure.
You are told to put sunscreen on before heading out the door each day. You are told to slather it on your kids from head to toe before sending them off to summer camp. You are told to put on a fresh coat every few hours. Dermatologists can’t stress enough the importance of sunscreen to help protect your skin from sun damage, skin cancer and aging skin.
But did you know the sunscreen you are applying may more likely be doing more harm than good? Now what do you do? Skip the sunscreen altogether or just use the spray ones? Read on to see which ones to stay away from and which ones are considered safe and best for daily use.
First let’s look at the physical makeup of sunscreens
The active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms, mineral filters and chemical filters. Mineral filters are natural and almost free of substances that could create negative reactions in most people. Most of the sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters, usually a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. They all sound a very “laboratory” made to be putting on your body, and could come with potentially, considerable negative effects. The best is to choose mineral based sunscreens whenever possible, but it’s good to become familiar with the chemicals in the non-mineral ones as well.
On the flip side of chemical filter sunscreen is mineral sunscreen, which uses zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. There are also a handful of products which combine zinc oxide with chemical filters. But are these regarded as safe??
So where is the FDA in all of this?
Because there has not been substantial regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, specific action to ban toxic chemicals in sunscreen has yet to take place. In fact, the FDA has not reviewed what is now a multitude of research and evidence of the potential hazards of sunscreen filters. The findings have been mostly ignored or hidden away. Instead, 19 of the chemicals in most sunscreens have been grandfathered in as “safe” ingredients since the late 1970s, when sunscreen safety began it’s public campaign, and it remains that way today.
In laboratory studies there’s strong evidence showing some chemical filters mimic hormones, the spray sunscreens can cause lung irritation and breathing problems, and physicians report sunscreen-related skin allergies, which raises important questions about unintended human health consequences from frequent sunscreen application. Other studies have shown that sunscreen chemicals can be found in the blood, urine and breast milk samples, and they can seep into internal organs and disrupt normal body system functioning by causing free radical damage and inflammation.
Here is another look at the most dangerous chemicals in sunscreen to avoid and what they do in the body:
- Oxybenzone is an estrogen and thyroid disruptor, weakening estrogen. It’s a testosterone disrupter too, associated with altered birth weight in human studies, and can cause skin irritations.
- Octinoxate is another hormone disruptor, causes disruption in the reproductive system and thyroid, and behavioral alterations in animal studies. It can also cause skin irritations.
- Homosalate disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone, causing hormonal and metabolic issues.
- Octisalate & Octocrylene may cause skin irritations.
The EWG which stands for Environmental Working Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that is dedicated to protecting human health and the environment by empowering people to make informed decisions with breakthrough research and education. They have researched sunscreens with fine toothed combs and suggests staying away from sunscreens that include these chemicals.
The EWG recommends staying away from sunscreens with added Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate).
Vitamin A is an antioxidant added to skin products because manufacturers believe it can slow skin aging. Though oral ingestion of vitamin A has been shown to reduce the risk of squamous cell carcinoma in people at high risk for skin cancer, a growing body of science says that Vitamin A also has the possibility of speeding the growth of malignant tumors when used on skin that is exposed to sunlight.
The Stay away from Insect Repellant infused sunscreen
Lastly, the EWG suggests staying away from insect repellent infused in sunscreen. Most insect repellents contain DEET, which is incredibly toxic to the body. It prevents bugs from landing on your and biting you and has been found to be very harmful for children. Furthermore, the main chemical in sunscreen, oxybenzone, raises the absorbability of DEET into the skin and blood. Remember that oxybenzone is associated with cell damage, hormone disruption and skin irritations. Best to avoid that chemical at all possible. Reach for citrus essential oils or citronella to keep bugs away from you and apply mineral sunscreen after the bug repellant is applied.
Look for These: Best Sunscreen Ingredients
Choose sunscreen made with zinc oxide, avobenzone and Mexoryl SX which all have no known evidence of hormone disruption and very little skin irritations reported. Avobenzone offers the best UVA protection for the least amount of chemical fillers. Look for these ingredients when choosing a sunscreen for you and your family.
Also, stay away from spray and powder sunscreen because of the potentially harmful chemicals that could be inhaled through the lungs and cause problems or reactions breathing, and sunscreen with a 50 SPF or higher. Studies conducted by Proctor and Gamble found that people tend to mistake the higher SPF with the length of time needed to re-apply (which is still every 2 hours or after getting wet), and tests they conducted showed that high SPF products actually contained much lower concentrations of protected SPF. They also concluded that high-SPF products require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals than low-SPF sunscreens which raised the risk of soaking in the bad-for your chemicals.
In summary, the Environmental Working Group recommends mineral sunscreen products that provide long lasting, broad spectrum protection, with ingredients that do not pose health concerns such as free radical damage, endocrine disruptors and inflammation in the body.