Is Your Sunscreen Toxic?
Most of us who enjoy summers at Smith Mountain Lake know that sunshine in moderate amounts is beneficial to our skin in a variety of ways. However, if you plan to be in the sun for more than 20-30 minutes at a time you run the risk of sunburn and exposure to damaging rays. This is where sunscreen enters the picture. Unfortunately, there is a very good chance that the commercial sunscreen you are using is also causing damage to your skin.
We think of sunscreen as something that is going to protect us from developing serious problems such as skin cancer somewhere down the road, and in many ways it does. But there are some real health concerns with much of the manufactured, store-bought sunscreens that people are using daily.
For those of us who attempt to avoid toxic chemicals, the issue with sunscreen is similar to those we have with shampoo, soap, and other skincare products. Most of them are filled with a variety of natural and chemical ingredients and it’s hard to know if all of them are safe or may have long-term side effects.
So what exactly makes sunscreen in particular unsafe or problematic? Here are a few of the elements in sunscreens that can be a problem:
Chemical UV Filters:
Did you know that nearly 70% of sunscreens on the market either do not work to protect us from the sun’s Ultraviolet (UV) rays or contain chemicals that can be as equally dangerous as too much sun? Unfortunately, the FDA does not review sunscreen safety. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out an Annual Sunscreen Report which shows the results of current testing and research.
All sunscreen has some form of filter, chemical or mineral, that is designed to protect the skin from UV rays. Those filters come in several different forms each with its issues. According to the EWG and their study of the 9 most commonly used sunscreen chemicals, 7 of them showed a variety of toxicity and one of the more troublesome ones, oxybenzone, is found in roughly 65% of the sunscreens commonly available.
Oxybenzone is easily absorbed into the skin and as a result, often finds its way into your bloodstream. It can cause severe allergic skin reactions, low testosterone levels, hormone disruption, lower birth rates, endocrine disruption, and more. And this is just one of the many toxic chemicals most widely used in sunscreens. To read the full report go here.
Mineral UV Filters:
Mineral sunscreen filters are usually made using nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titanium oxide. The EWG sunscreen database reports that there is little if any evidence that zinc or titanium particles penetrate the skin to reach living tissues. Minerals like these could cause oxidative damage to your skin, but only if they can penetrate the top layer which is very unlikely.
This means as a general rule mineral sunscreens tend to rate better than chemical sunscreens as far as safety. While these minerals can do damage if their manufacturers use forms of minerals that are not coated with inert chemicals to reduce photo-activity, no such problems have been reported. This is just one reason for advocating the switch to natural products when it comes to taking care of your skin.
Many ingredient labels contain an Active Ingredient list (IE Chemical UV Filters) and an Inactive Ingredient list. These inactive ingredients often make up 60% or more of the product, which means they matter.
One example of an often-used sunscreen ingredient would be retinyl palmitate, which has been shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells by 21%. We cannot trust our health to money-hungry manufacturing companies, so do not forget to thoroughly research all ingredients on the label of your sunscreen, as many inert ingredients can be as toxic as those listed as “active”.
What Are Your Alternatives?
Despite greater awareness about the dangers of long-term sun exposure, the risks of skin cancer, the benefits of sunscreen, etc., the incidence of skin cancer is still rising yearly. Skin cancer rates, melanoma in particular, are rising by nearly 5% each year even though we are trying to get less sun exposure and wear more sunscreen.
Perhaps there are no perfect options as far as buying sunscreen, but there are a number of them that have gotten excellent ratings by the EWG and others who are concerned about sunscreen safety. You can read about some of those healthier alternatives in this Dr. Axe article.
You can also make your sunscreen at home. It may not be quite as high an SPF but You can make a product that’s as non-toxic as you’re going to get with sunscreen. You can also get a good recipe for Natural Sunscreen, which includes some of the known SPFs of the ingredients on the Wellness Mama Website.
At the end of the day, it is pretty clear that unless you have researched each ingredient in your sunscreen, there is a strong possibility that some of its ingredients may be doing you harm.
If you are conscious of your health and aware that skin products can do serious damage, it’s worth thinking about what’s in these products.