Know Your Sunscreen Ingredients 101

How is it already July?! This year I've been perpetually confused on what month it is. Anyway, now that it is ~officially summer~ it's time to know what chemicals are in your beloved sun tanning and sun blocking lotions. Also— who knew that nature provides us with natural UV blockers?! It's almost like Mother Nature was saying "screw the chemicals" all along. She just loves surprises! Silly gal.

So a few things to know before we dive in: the more well known opposition regarding sunscreen is the damage it does to coral reefs across our oceans. Certain chemicals in sunscreen (octocrylene, oxybenzone, octinoxate) bleach and kill vulnerable coral, and are known to prohibit the development of fishes and other wildlife. Last month, Hawaii followed Sweden's footsteps and approved a bill that will ban these chemicals that are found in major sunscreens (Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone.) So if these chemicals can leach off our skin and kill thousands of miles of coral reefs and aquatic species, what about the percentage that is absorbed by our bodies?

This study showed that when absorbed by the skin, octocrylene produces free radicals and induce DNA damage, therefore increasing our risk of cancer. Wait... but isn't sunscreen supposed to prevent us from cancer? *face palm* This report showed that under certain conditions, wearing sunscreen with oxybenzone increases your risk of DNA damage, more so than if you had direct contact with the sun. So without further ado, here is the list of top chemicals in descending order you should avoid in sunscreens:

  • Oxybenzone - This chemical UV blocker is the most absorbable out of all chemical blockers. According to the Environmental Working Group, it can be detected in nearly every American and has been found in mother's breastmilk. It's been associated to disrupt hormones in our body and to interfere with the development of a fetus in a mother and to frequently cause skin allergies.

  • Octinoxate - Also known as octyl methoxycinnamate, it is linked to mimic hormones in our body and has shown to disrupt the reproductive system and thyroid functions in animal studies.

  • Homosolate - This UVB-fighting acid is considered hazardous because it is a weak hormone disrupter, and has actually been shown to barely filter out any UV rays from the skin. Europe limited the use of this chemical to comprise no more than 10% of a product.

  • Octisalate - It's a chemical additive that is used in combination with other chemical UV filters, and is generally used to make lotion thinner and less white. Some studies have linked it to developmental and reproductive toxicity.

  • Octocrylene - Similar to oxybenzone, it has been found in mothers' breast milk and reported high rates of skin allergy.

  • Titanium Dioxide - While it has been shown to sit on top of the skin (no proof that it penetrates the skin), it's less absorbable by the body. However, titanium dioxide in nanopartical form has shown reproductive and developmental effects in animals and is a known inhalation hazard.

  • Zinc Oxide - It's an excellent UVA protectant and is considered the safest, but has been found to be absorbed by our skin (minimally). It's an inhalation hazard and can cause non-reproductive organ toxicity if accumulated in our bodies.

  • Avobenzone - It has shown limited skin penetration but is often combined with other chemical UV filters because it is unstable when exposed to sunlight. The breakdown product is also linked to relatively high rates of skin allergies.

With all that being said, don't be afraid of the sun! Hopefully I didn't just convince you to stay indoors forever. We need vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Low levels of Vitamin D can cause breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain and more! So let's not be afraid of the sun and have a look at Mother Nature's favorite UV blockers:

  • Green and black tea (the tannic acid and theobromine in tea supposedly help to cool sunburns, while other compounds called catechins help prevent and repair skin damage)

  • Sesame oil (resists 30% of UV rays according to this study)

  • Aromatherapy mixtures with high antioxidant content (L-ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol, apigenin, anthocyanidins)

  • Curcumin (the yellow, odorless pigment from the turmeric plant has been used topically for ages and has proven to prevent UVA induced damage in mice)

  • Allantoin (a natural chemical extract from the comfrey plant that has been shown to absorb UV rays)

Once of my all time favorite sunscreens is by Raw Elements, which uses non-nano zinc oxide as the main UV blocker along with organic sunflower oil, green tea, black tea, vitamin E and shea butter for moisturizing. I've honestly yet to find a clean and affordable sunscreen like it.

Anyway, happy summer & happy (safe) sun tanning!




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