By: Sarah Carson

Summer is here and after months of isolation inside our homes we’re ready to get outside and bask in the sun. The topic of the sun can be confusing for some of our clients.The sun is so important for Vitamin D production, keeping our circadian rhythms in balance and even our mental health depends on it. We also know that the rates of skin cancer like melanoma are rising, attributed to too much time under the harmful UVA and UVB rays from the sun. 

The key here is BALANCE! Small amounts of time in the sun are important and even critical. In fact, you should get at least 20 mins of time in the sun, preferably in the morning. However, extended periods of time under the sun and sunburns should be avoided. 

What You Should Know About Your SUNSCREENS

Have you ever wondered why your sunscreen causes your skin or eyes to burn, or what chemicals you might be inhaling as you spray your aerosol sunscreens? What are we ingesting as we apply sunscreen to our lips? While sunscreens do provide protection from the dangerous UV rays, the truth is they could be causing more harm than good. 

When we apply products like sunscreens to our skin, we risk absorbing a large portion of them into our bloodstream. One study from the American Journal of Public Health found that skin absorption of volatile organic compounds from drinking water averages 64%. 8 Our mucous membranes, which include our eyes, nose and  lips may absorb up to 40% more! This applies to any chemicals applied to the skin. For this reason it’s so important to make sure you’re using clean, non-toxic products for you and your family.

We also need to consider the potential detrimental effects on our environment. Some of these chemicals are known to harm coral reefs and other aquatic environments. Additionally, some of them persist in the environment, which means they don’t break down and can accumulate over time.

Types of Sunscreen:

Sunscreens provide a barrier to our skin in several ways, including chemical, mineral or both. 1

Chemical Barrier: in which the active chemical ingredients provide a filter from the sun’s rays. The most common chemicals include  avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate. 

Mineral Barrier: in which the active ingredient is a mineral which coats the skin and prevents the rays from penetrating the skin. These include sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. 

Both Chemical and Mineral: Some sunscreens contain active ingredients containing both chemicals and minerals

FDA Regulations on Sunscreens

The problem with the FDA regulations on sunscreens is that there really were none until February 2019 when the agency issued a proposed rule to update regulatory requirements for over-the-counter sunscreens in the United States.  Of the 16 currently-marketed active ingredients marketed in sunscreens, 2 were considered GRASE (generally recognized as safe and effective), including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Two of the 16 ingredients were considered unsafe, which included PABA and trolamine salicylate. The remaining 12 were ingredients in which the FDA determined there is insufficient data to determine safety and effectiveness.  As a result of these findings the FDA concluded that there are only 2 ingredients which deserve the GRASE recognition, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. 2

In January of 2020 a study was released in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) reporting findings of a randomized clinical trial in which plasma concentrations were measured after application of 6 of the 12 active chemical ingredients found in sunscreens. The results of the study concluded that all 6 of the active ingredients administered in 4 different formulations were systemically absorbed and found in levels above the FDA threshold.  3

These findings apply only to the active ingredients in sunscreens. What about all of the inactive ingredients and additives? Unfortunately the FDA hasn’t started this tier of their investigations yet, but we know that many of these chemicals such as parabens, phthalates, fragrance, PEGs, etc are highly toxic and found in many of the sunscreens and skincare products currently on the market.

What are the Potential Negative Effects of Sunscreen?

  • Endocrine Disruption

Oxybenzone, one of the most common and toxic chemicals used on the market, is a potent endocrine disruptor. This means that it interferes with our hormones, including estrogen and thyroid function. It can also interfere with immune function. 6 What’s worse is that oxybenxone is incredibly highly absorbable through the skin and found to be in large concentrations in the plasma up to 3 weeks after a single application. 1,3

  • Reproductive and Fertility Problems

Both oxybenzone and octinoxate interfere are associated with birth defects and fertility problems. 1

  • Organ Toxicity

Many of the chemical products can accumulate in the organs or have toxic breakdown products. 1

  • Allergic Reactions and Skin Disorders

Skin allergy reactions are a huge concern with some of the chemical ingredients. Oxybenzone is the most common cause of sunscreen-induced photo-allergic contact dermatitis. 9

  • Inhalation Concerns

Aerosolized forms of titanium dioxide can accumulate in the lungs and increase risk of fibrosis and cancer. 4

Which Sunscreens Should I use?

Generally speaking, it’s safe to use the mineral sunscreens which include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. However, caution using zinc oxide and especially titanium dioxide in an aerosol spray bottle, as the nanoparticles can be inhaled and get trapped in the lungs, causing fibrosis and possibly cancer. 4  Titanium dioxide absorbs UVB and some UVA rays. Zinc oxide provides the most broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. 5

Before choosing your sunscreen I recommend going to where you will find a comprehensive list of sunscreens that meet the strict safety requirements set by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that tests and advocates for protecting human health and the environment. 7

The EWG also advises against purchasing products claiming high SPF values greater than 50+ as they can be misleading, providing consumers with a false sense of security, leading to extended periods of time in the sun leading to burns.

We highly recommend the safe mineral-based sunscreens by Beauty Counter.

Other Ways to Protect Our Skin

The EWG recommends that we only use sunscreen when we need it. When spending extended periods of time in the sun, try to use alternate forms of protection such as umbrellas, sunglasses, hats and clothing.  There are  now many types of clothing that offer UVA protective fabric. 

Now you know the ways in which you can protect yourself…it’s time to get outside and enjoy Mother Nature’s medicine..THE SUN!