With summer already in full swing, many people are making frequent outings to the beach, pool, park, and many other fun outdoor venues. Most people assume a thick slathering of sunscreen is just what one would need to protect their skin from the sun.
That is a reasonable assumption, but what if some sunscreen ingredients are harmful to you just like getting too much sun? You need to know there are many harmful ingredients in sunscreen to avoid.
Sadly, more and more research is showing this to be the case with many sunscreens available in the United States.
Many consumers look for sunscreen with a high SPF when they should really be looking at the ingredients on the bottle. Checking the ingredients in sunscreen is important because sunscreens commonly include “penetration enhancers”.
They are used to better adhere the product to the skin so that its protection can last through the splashes and sweat that go hand in hand with summer fun. However, these “penetration enhancers” can do too good of a job at penetrating.
Because of these enhancers, many harmful sunscreen chemicals have been found in samples of breast milk, blood, and urine! In fact, Margaret Sclumpf from the University of Zurich conducted a study on the absorption of sunscreen chemicals.
She discovered traces of five harmful sunscreen chemicals (including oxybenzone which is the worst of the worst!) in Swiss women’s breast milk. She found one sunscreen chemical in 85% of the milk samples! This suggests that newborns and babies still in the womb may have been exposed to these toxic substances.
In an evaluation of CDC-collected exposure data for children in the United States, researchers found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements had significantly lower total testosterone levels (Scinicariello 2016). Although this specific study was not long term or conclusive, you won’t find the chemical-free dad using this stuff!
You may be wondering, “If these ingredients are so harmful, why does the FDA allow them in our products?” Well, when the FDA began regulating the safety of sunscreen ingredients, they grandfathered in the active ingredients from the 1970s doing no reviews on whether these ingredients were hazardous!
Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: What’s the difference?
There are two types of ultraviolet radiation: UVB, which causes sunburns; and UVA, which penetrates deeper into the skin and causes more serious damage.
Mineral blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide protect against both types of radiation. Mineral sunscreens work by forming a physical barrier on the surface of the skin.
This barrier reflects ultraviolet rays away from the skin. The two main ingredients in mineral sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Chemical blockers, however, absorb rays rather than block them. Because of this, chemical sunscreens allow UVA to reach deeper layers of the skin than mineral-based sunscreens.
The active ingredients in mineral sunscreen, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide, are considered safe; however, this is not the case with many of the ingredients in chemical-based sunscreen. From hormone disruption in our bodies to causing disruption in the oceans, these ingredients are being found to be very troublesome. So, natural-mineral based sunscreens are a much better option for our bodies.
If it is your health, the health of your loved ones, the ecosystem, or all of the above that you are concerned about, then you will want to watch out and think twice about what you are putting on your skin!
In the next section, I will expand on some of the worst ingredients found in sunscreens, so you know what to avoid on your next trip to the supermarket.
Some of the Worst Ingredients in Chemical Sunscreen:
One of the most common sunscreen ingredients also happens to be the worst! Oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen that penetrates our skin and may disrupt the hormone system. It has been linked in studies with a higher risk of many ailments such as skin allergies, cell damage, poor sperm quality, and endometriosis.
It has also been shown to be an endocrine disruptor because its structure closely mimics human hormones, and it has the potential to throw off your hormonal balance.
Oxybenzone is also suspected to harm aquatic life, and Hawaii banned it in 2018 to protect the coral reefs. On the packaging, this ingredient is sometimes also called benzophenone-3.
Similarly to oxybenzone, octinoxate is also linked to endocrine disruption and was targeting in Hawaii’s 2018 ban due to the harm it also causes to coral reefs.
Octinoxate has also been linked to reproductive toxicity. It may be listed on the sunscreen’s packaging as methoxy-cinnamate, ethylhexylmethoxy-cinnamate, or OMC.
While less harmful than oxybenzone and octinoxate, homosalate is still one you should do your best to avoid. Like the two mentioned before it, homosalate is also linked to hormone disruption. Furthermore, it assists in the penetration of sunscreen into your skin. So, if it is present along with oxybenzone or octinoxate for example, it could cause your body to absorb even more of those harmful chemicals.
Similar to homosalate, octisalate is a penetration enhancer. While it has not been shown to be inherently harmful itself, it should still be avoided because it often comes hand in hand with more harmful chemicals that it allows to penetrate deeper into your skin than they would have otherwise.
Avobenzone is the least toxic of the chemicals on this list, but that it only when it is stable. A recent Russian study in the journal Chemosphere found that when avobenzone interacts with the sun’s rays and chlorinated water, avobenzone breaks down into phenols and acetyl benzenes —— which have been shown to be extremely toxic.
Mineral Sunscreen Isn’t Perfect Either: Nanoparticles
While zinc oxide and titanium dioxide do not pose any direct risk to your health, the nanoparticles they are made up of maybe harmful in certain situations. However, these situations are preventable.
Titanium dioxide has been found to be harmful to the respiratory system when inhaled in large amounts.
While it is unlikely for this to happen, the EWG recommends avoiding spray sunscreens or loose powder makeup containing it.
Just FYI, avoid breathing in any kind of spray or powders whenever possible, especially household cleaners! For more information on nanoparticles in mineral sunscreens, click here.
In conclusion, it is best to opt for mineral sunscreens and ditch chemical sunscreens altogether.
Until the FDA begins to better regulate chemical sunscreens for their impact on your health, do your best to check the ingredients on your sunscreen to make sure you aren’t doing more harm than good by wearing it!
A few tips for protecting your family’s skin while outside are:
1. Stay in the shade more.
2. Cover your skin (preferably with light-colored clothing that will attract less heat).
3. Wear sunglasses and hats.
4. Drink plenty of good-quality water.
5. Don’t let sunscreen give you a false sense of security.
If you would like to research these chemicals for yourself or any other chemicals used in cosmetics, I highly recommend using EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You can search by brand, product, or ingredients to check and make sure the cosmetics you are using are safe!
They have most of the products you could find in the store listed on their website with links to studies showing if they are safe, unsafe, and why. They also list a multitude of safe brands of sunblock on their site here and several more great articles like this one about skin-cancer-on-the-rise.
I receive NO COMPENSATION WHATSOEVER for recommending their site NOR DO I if you were to buy their stuff after following EWG article links from this post.
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The Chemical Free Dad