7 Ingredients to Avoid in Your Sunscreen

Did you know that 20% of people in the United States alone will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives? Your risk of developing skin cancer and other skin problems increases the more time you spend in the sun unprotected. Using sunscreen when you go outside is the main thing that will protect you, but did you know that most sunscreens contain harmful ingredients? 

What kind of sunscreen brands should you be using? 

More than that, which brands are not only good for adults but are kid-friendly as well? Keep reading and learn more about choosing the best sun protection for you and your family. 

Why You Need Sunscreen

Many people think that they need to put sunscreen on only to avoid getting burned. While this is true, there are many more reasons to use sunscreen and you should be using it more often than only on your occasional beach trips. The reason why sunscreen is so important is that it can protect you from the sun’s UV rays. 

These rays are a type of radiation and they can damage not only your body’s cells but its DNA as well. For example, if you stay out in the sun for a long time, these rays of radiation will eventually penetrate your skin cells and affect their strands of DNA. UV rays have the ability to break DNA strands.

While breaking DNA in this way is sometimes harmless, other times, it can create skin cancer. This is especially true when the sun’s rays break strands of DNA and then meld the DNA back together in an abnormal way, creating something known as a cyclobutane thymine dimer. This is only one of many ways that the sun can damage your skin. 

Skin damage also occurs when your skin gets burned. That’s because, naturally, your skin is meant to act as a barrier between the inside of your body and the outside environment. When you burn your skin, this barrier becomes weak. 

The more you burn your skin, the more susceptible it will be to damage, most notably skin cancer. Even tanning can increase your risk of skin cancer. More than that, excess exposure to the sun without protection can cause wrinkles and sagging skin due to how the sun breaks down skin cells over time. 

You can avoid these problems as long as you use sunscreen when you go outside. But is it really that easy?

What to Know About Toxic Sunscreen

Many people face the dilemma of getting burned by the sun or using sunscreen that contains toxic ingredients. Some might not even know that some sunscreen contains harmful chemicals which can make the situation even worse. You might think: If the sunscreen only stays on the surface of my skin, what does it matter?

The problem is that the skin is a complex organ and it loves to absorb whatever appears on top of it. This is why medication patches work when applied to the skin. Sunscreen works in a similar way. 

While the point of sunscreen is to stay on top of your skin and protect it from the sun, some of the sunscreen ingredients will absorb into the deeper layers of your skin. The deep layer of the skin known as the dermis is rich in blood vessels. Once sunscreen hits this layer, its toxic ingredients can enter your bloodstream and reach other parts of your body. 

So, not only can toxic sunscreen do damage to your skin but it can also wreak havoc on other parts of your body, including your internal organs. Of course, using sunscreen with harmful ingredients a few times likely won’t do any damage, using toxic sunscreen all the time can be a real issue. For that reason, you will always want to check the ingredients in whatever brand of sunscreen you decide to buy. 

This is especially true if you are buying sunscreen for your child. By using only safe sunscreen, you can rest easy knowing that you are protected both from the sun and from toxic ingredients. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two sunscreen ingredients that we know to be safe. 

But what toxic ingredients should you look out for?

7 Ingredients to AVOID and why:

Before we get down to the nitty gritty, let’s discuss the EWG. They are the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. They score products based on safety data. EWG scores 0-10, 0 is the cleanest and 10 is the worst.

 

Oxybenzone (EWG 8) and Octinoxate (EWG 6)

Oxybenzone is one of the most harmful ingredients that you can find in sunscreen. And yet, you can find this ingredient in most sunscreen brands (but not in the brands previously listed, of course). Oxybenzone is considered a hormone disruptor and it may have the ability to mimic and disrupt hormones in your body. 

Specifically, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), oxybenzone can mimic estrogen. This is bad news for men who encounter this ingredient in particular because their bodies will believe that they have more estrogen than usual. Not only that, but this ingredient is banned in Hawaii because it is especially bad for the health of the coral reefs. 

If this ingredient causes DNA damage, bleaching, and other damage to coral reefs, do you really want to put it on your skin? Probably not. But the downsides of this ingredient don’t stop there.

Oxybenzone, because of its ability to disrupt hormones, may be responsible for causing lower sperm counts in men. In the same vein, it may cause a drop in testosterone levels in both boys and men. This is not to mention that oxybenzone causes skin allergies and irritation in many people

Octinoxate is another harmful sunscreen ingredient that is equally harmful to coral reefs. For that reason, it is banned in Hawaii as well. As with oxybenzone, octinoxate also seems to disrupt facets of the reproductive system. 

But more than that, octinoxate also seems to affect the thyroid. The thyroid is a very important organ that you need to control the rate of your metabolism and various hormones in your body. It is also in control of the temperature of your body as well as your heart rate and muscle function. 

As with oxybenzone, octinoxate also causes skin allergies. 

Avobenzone and Parabens

Avobenzone and parabens are two more ingredients that you should do your best to avoid in sunscreen brands. Avobenzone in particular is another hormone disruptor. The interesting thing about avobenzone is that although it is used in sunblock to achieve the highest sun protection possible, it is actually not stable once exposed to the sun. 

When light hits avobenzone, the ingredient destabilizes and becomes useless. How can this be, you might ask? To use avobenzone in sunscreen, the ingredient needs another toxic ingredient, octisalate, as a crutch so it won’t destabilize. 

Avobenzone also causes skin irritation and it may affect the reproductive system due to its effect on the body’s hormones. Finally, there are parabens. You can find parabens in any kind of skincare product from sunscreen to moisturizer and beyond. 

What many people don’t know is that parabens are hormone disruptors and can be harmful to the body in a variety of ways.

Parabens are so often found in skincare products because these ingredients help to prevent bacteria from growing within the ingredients. While this may be a good thing, parabens can mimic the female hormone estrogen. 

For that reason, parabens can disrupt the endocrine system which is the system responsible for the control of male and female hormones. This effect can be especially harmful to men and boys. As a result, parabens may compromise the reproductive health of men from a young age. 

Some common types of parabens include ethylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. When choosing a sunscreen, always make sure that the label says “paraben-free.”

Homosalate (EWG 4)

Found in mother’s milk, it disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone. Also, high concern for toxic breakdown products. 

Phthalates

Chemicals that make plastic more flexible and commonly found in children’s toys. Many countries have banned this chemical including most of Europe, Mexico, Japan, and Argentina. As usual the United States still allows it.

It has been shown to lower levels of testosterone and is associated with abnormal urogenital anatomy of boys called “Phthalate Syndrome”. In females it has been associated with increased risk for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

In sunscreens it appears as “fragrance” or Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) on the label.

Retinal Palmitate

This is a form of vitamin A that has been shown to react with UV rays when applied topically, increasing the risk of skin tumors. Avoid the following: retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate and retinyl linoleate.

 

⚠Others with insufficient data

Octisalate (EWG 4)

Octocrylene (EWG 3)

 

✅Lowest Risk

Zinc Oxide (EWG 2) Titanium Dioxide(EWG 2)

Sunscreen and Eczema

If you or your child suffer from eczema you are likely highly paranoid about putting anything new on your skin. In general, the more ingredients, the more likely you are to have an eczema flare related to the sunscreen. Many of the toxins listed above specifically cause skin allergy so be sure to steer clear of those. Sampling a new sunscreen on a small area of skin before you get to the beach is an easy way to check for allergic reactivity.

 

Choosing Your Sunscreen

Both adults and children alike need to use sunscreen when spending excessive time in the sun. For complete sun protection, you should also wear a sunhat and clothing that protects against UV rays. However, if you plan on going to the beach or the pool, you can’t do this, which is why you will want to find a reliable brand of sunscreen that gives you as much sun protection as possible. The higher SPFs provide more protection, but over 50+ there is a minimum benefit.  Generally, choosing a sunscreen with SPF between 30 and 50 is considered ideal. 

When choosing a sunscreen, you might want to think not only about the safety of your skin but the safety of coral reefs as well. That’s because certain sunscreens contain ingredients that are toxic to reefs and can cause coral bleaching and DNA abnormalities. The brands below are gentle on skin and coral reefs so no matter where you visit you protect the environment.

Brands I Like

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What You Need to Know About Sunscreen

Look at sunscreen labels the same way you look at food labels – in general, the less ingredients the better.  Don’t let the toxic ingredients in many sunscreen add to your family’s inflammatory load. To learn more about how chemicals affect our skin,  check out this previous post.

 

In Good Health,

 

Drs Ana-Maria and John Temple

 

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