The topic of sunscreen has been around for a while. We’ve been told why too much sun exposure can be harmful to our skin, but what about the ingredients used in sunscreen that is supposed to be “protecting” our skin. Many informative articles have specifically been targeting brands rather than exposing the actual ingredients that can be harmful in sunscreen. Here is an overview of the most commonly used substances found in your sunscreen and what ill effects they have on your body.
First, There are 2 common types of sunscreens out there:
1. Mineral sunscreens- typically include natural gentler ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which create a physical barrier to protect the skin from the sun.
2. Chemical Sunscreens- Contain synthetic chemicals. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
So what is wrong with chemical sunscreens?
“- the EWG reveals that the chemicals commonly used in sunscreen are endocrine disruptors, estrogenic and may interfere with thyroid and other hormone processes in the body.”
Let’s review what the effects of some of these synthetic chemicals are:
When oxybenzone is absorbed by your skin, it can cause an eczema-like allergic reaction that can spread beyond the exposed area and last long after you’re out of the sun. Experts also suspect that oxybenzone disrupts hormones (i.e., mimics, blocks, and alters hormone levels) which can throw off your endocrine system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 97 percent of Americans have this chemical circulating in our bodies, as it can accumulate more quickly than our bodies can get rid of it.
Oxybenzone is considered an endocrine disruptor, can reduce sperm count in men and may contribute to endometriosis in women. The EWG warns against using oxybenzone, especially on children or pregnant/breastfeeding women.
Octinoxate, also called Octyl methoxycinnamate or (OMC), is a UV filter. It can be absorbed rapidly through skin. Octinoxate has been detected in human urine, blood and breast milk, which indicates that humans are systemically exposed to this compound [1,2]. Octinoxate is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen and can disrupt thyroid function.
Animal studies report lower sperm counts and sperm abnormalities after exposure to oxybenzone and octinoxate, delayed puberty after exposure to octinoxate and altered estrous cycling for female mice exposed to oxybenzone.
Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate) –
“When exposed to the sun’s UV rays, retinol compounds break down and produce destructive free radicals that are toxic to cells, damage DNA, and may lead to cancer. In fact, FDA studies have shown that retinyl palimitate may speed the development of malignant cells and skin tumors when applied to skin before sun exposure…”
“Vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, that is often used in sunscreens was shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells by 21%.”
Octocrylene is one of those ingredients that can be absorbed into the skin and some studies have shown that it may promote generation of potentially harmful free radicals when exposed to light. Since free radicals can damage DNA, there is concern that this ingredient might have contributed to an increased incidence of melanoma in sunscreen-users compared to non-users.
This UV-absorbing sunscreen ingredient helps sunscreen to penetrate your skin. Once the ingredient has been absorbed, homosalate accumulates in our bodies faster than we can get rid of it, becomes toxic and disrupts our hormones.
Avobenzene degrades in the sun, resulting in the release of free radicals that may actually increase the risk of cancer. Free radicals are also known to accelerate skin aging and research has also tied it to a slew of allergies.
One last thought, if Sunscreen is so effective at preventing skin cancer then why is skin cancer on the rise?
Despite the push for more awareness about sun exposure, and the advice to use sunscreen whenever we go outside, incidence of skin cancer, especially melanoma, is rising dramatically. In fact, skin cancer rates are rising by 4.2% annually, despite the fact that we spend less time outdoors and wear more sunscreen.
Personally, I think the best thing to do is limit your time and skin exposure to the sun. If you do require sunscreen, there are a couple I have used and recommend.
- Green Beaver Natural Mineral Sunscreen 40 SPF- Canadian company. I have found it at Superstore, London Drugs, and Community Natural Foods.
- Badger Unscented Broad Spectrum Sunscreen 30 SPF – Canadian Company. It is a bit thicker and harder to spread on evenly over your skin but is great for especially sensitive skin. I have found it at London Drugs and Community Natural Foods.