Sunscreen is increasingly important in the warmer and brighter months – but the frequent use of sunscreen could be contributing to vitamin D deficiency.
Additionally, sunscreen (at least conventional sunscreen) can often contain harmful ingredients which penetrate the skin on a daily basis given how sunscreen is applied and absorbed into the skin (often during excruciatingly hot days).
Many of the common-place ingredients used in conventional sunscreen, like “oxybenzone,” for example, are well known and documented endocrine and hormone disruptors.
Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreens and Sunblock Products
It is always best to opt for a sunscreen that contains primarily ‘mineral-based ingredients – oils, fatty acids, and plant-based extractives are generally fine as well.
All of these ingredients – those harmful (and those that are benign), are absorbed into the skin after one application, so it is extremely important to only pick a natural sunscreen that is safe (i.e., paraben and – benzone free).
Oxybenzone may also be labeled as ‘benzophenone-3 and is the most concerning active ingredient in sunscreen products. Studies have found that young boys exposed to higher levels of oxybenzone had dramatically lower total and free testosterone levels, and an increased risk of endometriosis in girls.
Other notable ingredients to avoid are:
Octinoxate – UV filter that offers protection from UVB rays, and is linked to reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption. Also, it may be labeled as “octyl-methoxycinnamate.”
Homosalate – Linked to hormone disruption, and enhances the penetration of other harmful ingredients into the skin. This product is found to persist and is not broken down easily.
Avobenzone – Systematically absorbed into the body after a single use and persists in the blood weeks after use, like oxybenzone. Known as a hormonal and endocrine disruptor with reproductive toxicity.
Octocrylene – is often contaminated with known carcinogens, and has “endocrine-disrupting potential” in higher concentrations. It easily absorbs through the skin, often reaching the level that the FDA labels as ‘systemic exposure’ to the chemical.
You’ll notice the sunscreens available on Healthy Planet Canada are often zinc or titanium-oxide-based (i.e., mineral-based) and these are often much safer options, especially for younger children. Zinc Oxide is a natural UV absorber and often gives these natural sunscreens their distinct ‘white’ paste color. It is often more effective as a natural sunscreen than titanium dioxide, as it provides broad spectrum UVA and UVB ray protection compared to titanium dioxide, which is primarily effective against UVB rays.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen by Reading Labels
Always opt for a sunscreen that is explicitly advertised as a ‘mineral’ or ‘natural’ sunscreen – these often guarantee that the active ingredients will be paraben and oxybenzone-free while being zinc or titanium-based. In terms of ‘base’ or inactive ingredients, always ensure there’s nothing harmful in there: things like emollients (oils and fatty acids) are fine, besides things like beeswax, vitamin E, or botanical extracts. These are all perfectly safe to be applied topically, and also help retain moisture and protect the skin itself.
SPF numbering may throw some people off, in that they automatically assume more is better, but this isn’t really the case. The increase from, say, SPF15 to SPF30 isn’t that dramatic and is mostly unwarranted unless you will be outside for a much longer or more prolonged period of time. SPF15 blocks ~93% of UVB rays, while SPF30 blocks around 97% of UVB rays. However, SPF50 only blocks 98% — not much more than SPF30. SPF is also a measure of protection against UVB rays only, which is why it is important to look for products that specify “broad spectrum” protection, which means protection against UVB and UVA rays.
UVA light refers to the kind of rays associated with premature aging and wrinkles – exposure to UVB light is shorter, and associated with sunburn and damage to the skin common in those staying outdoors for long periods of time in the summer without proper protection. However, protection against both is important, especially for those that care about their skin.