Do you eat healthy, work out, care about the environment, and make conscious decisions regarding the products you purchase? If your sunscreen isn't free of carcinogens, hormone disruptors, toxins, parabens, allergens, irritants, harsh preservatives... you may be unknowingly tainting every aspect of your life. And if your sunscreen isn’t staying on your skin when you sweat or go in the water, it may not meet the needs of your active lifestyle. Learn what some of the sunscreen terminology and ingredients are all about and if they work for you:
Avobenzone is easily absorbed through the skin. It’s used in sunscreens because it absorbs UV radiation. Since it cannot destroy this energy, it has to convert the light energy into chemical energy, which is normally released as free radicals. In sunlight, avobenzone degrades and becomes ineffective within an hour.
Scientists discovered that benzophenone, one of the five of six chemicals commonly used in chemical sunscreens, mimics estrogen. They recommended more studies to look at possible long-term effects as a hormone disruptor.
BHA and BHT
Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disruptors; may cause cancer. Harmful to fish and wildlife.
Synthetic polymers made from acrylic.
Ethyl Alcohol / ethanol
Common in health and beauty products and often found in after-sun care. Even at low concentrations, ethanol may induce apoptosis in skin cells. Applied topically, ethanol acts as a skin penetration enhancer and may facilitate the transdermal absorption of carcinogenic contaminants in cosmetic formulations. Ethanol use is associated with skin irritation or contact dermatitis. Also avoid: denatured alcohol, methanol, benzyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol.
DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Used in a variety of cosmetics. Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer. Skin irritant.
Fragrances or Perfume
95% of the chemicals in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum (each synthetic can include hundreds of combinations of ingredients). Some of these chemicals can alter the skin’s surface tension, allowing more chemicals to be absorbed through the skin. Fragrance chemicals affect the brain and nervous system, with some effects being immediate and transitory; others being chronic and long lasting. Fragrances can: Modify brain blood flow; Alter blood pressure, act as irritants / allergens; pulse and mood; Trigger migraine headaches; Induce or worsen respiratory problems; Trigger asthma in school-age children (asthma is now the leading serious chronic illness among youth). Oddly many baby formulations contain these fragrances. One common example is synthetic vanillin (made from a slew of petrochemicals, wood pulp or coal tar biproducts).
Homosalate/ Octylmethoxycinnamate/ Octinoxate
Common sunscreen ingredients. Have shown estrogenic activity in lab tests. They’ve been shown to disrupt hormones, affect the development of the brain (particularly the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal system) and of reproductive organs in laboratory rats.
Widely used in consumer products. Applied to skin, atoms possibly could enter the body through damaged skin. They can harm tiny marine worms, crustaceans, algae, fish, mussels, and other sea creatures.
Penetrates the skin, enters the bloodstream, acts like estrogen in the body, bioaccumulates. A study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that nearly all Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone, a sunscreen chemical that has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage. The same chemical was linked to low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy, according to a study from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Damages DNA in juvenile corals and creates bleaching events.
PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid)
Some products still contain PABA. Forty percent of the population is sensitive to it, experiencing red, itchy skin. A recent study showed dolphins in the wild are transferring it from mother to infant.
Mimic estrogen and act as potential hormone (endochrine) system disruptors. Along with cinnamate, benzophenone, and camphor derivatives, parabens activate algae viruses and contribute to coral bleaching. Many companies will tell you their product is safe because it doesn’t contain any parabens (disregarding the list of other toxic chemicals that are not eco-friendly).
Most citrus (orange, grapefruit, lemon) applied to the skin and then exposed to the sun will increase the chances of getting burned interestingly you can often find these in skin care and lip balms). Some antibiotics act as photosensitizers, so it’s important to check before going into the sun.
Typically nano-particle titanium &/or zinc (with additives, preservatives, chemicals). Inhaled nanoparticles enter the blood stream through the lungs. While many prefer transparent powders, larger white particles provide better UVA protection. Powder applied topically will be inhaled into the lungs. Because of this, powders are never recommended for children. The Environmental Working Group strongly discourages the use of loose powder makeup or sunscreens using titanium dioxide or zinc oxide of any particle size.
Propylene Glycol and Butylene Glycol
Petroleum plastics act as surfactants (wetting agents, solvents). EPA considers Propylene Glycol so toxic it requires protective gloves, clothing, goggles and disposal by burying. Because Propylene Glycol penetrates skin so quickly, EPA warns against skin contact to prevent brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities. It’s cheap though, and used as a solvent, propylene glycol is probably the most common ingredient found in personal-care items: make-up, hair, lotions, after-shave, deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste... even ones from ‘natural food’ stores.
SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” but that outdated term refers only to protection against UVB rays that burn the skin. It has little to do with a product’s ability to protect skin from UVA rays, which penetrate deep into the body, accelerate skin aging, suppressing the immune system and causing skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher do an excellent job protecting against UVB when applied properly. A higher SPF doesn't mean better UVB protection. Research indicates that an SPF higher than 30 is mostly marketing and that high ratings give people a false sense of security, which leads to inadequate use and increased exposure. Europe and Australia cap SPF rating at 50 and 30, respectively. Look for Broad Spectrum sunscreens that protects from both UVB and UVA (such as Zinc Oxide formulations, preferably at levels of 20%+).
Retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, retinoic acid. In 1000’s of sunscreens, skin lotions, lipsticks and lip sunscreens – all of which appear to pose safety concerns for consumers. German and Norwegian governments have cautioned that retinol and other vitamin A additives in cosmetics could cause people to take in toxic amounts of vitamin A (German BfR 2014, Norwegian SCFS 2012a). A study by U.S. government scientists suggests that retinyl palmitate may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight (NTP 2012).