Summertime & Suncreen: What You Need to Know to Keep You & the Environment Safe!

Summer is here and it’s time to get out and play in the sun. Sun damage to the skin results in burns, and skin anomalies, including cancer and premature aging. Protecting the skin from the damaging ultraviolet radiation of the sun reduces the risks of burns and skin cancer. However, are you aware of the types of sunscreen to apply? A broad spectrum sunscreen protects the skin from UVA and UVB rays but not all sunscreens contain safe ingredients. Let’s discuss the difference between chemical and mineral (also called physical) sunscreens and how to protect yourself, your family and the environment around you.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens are composed of many ingredients that may be harmful to the body and overall health. They are absorbed through the skin and into the blood stream and can stay in the body for weeks. These chemicals are not just specific to sunscreens themselves but also appear in other products like moisturizers, cosmetics, etc. Many are known to be endocrine disruptors and carcinogens or may cause allergic reactions. Furthermore, they may pose a problem to our aquatic life, including our fragile coral reef systems, as they wash off our skin.

Toxic Chemicals in Sunscreens

Below is a list of some of the most harmful chemicals in sunscreens to watch out for. FDA currently has these listed as “not safe and effective”:

Oxybenzone (aka Benzophenone-3) – This is probably the one you have heard of the most. It’s an active ingredient that absorbs UV radiation, however it can activate skin allergies (contact and photocontact), be an eye irritant and hormone disruptor, affecting estrogen production in women, testosterone in men and thyroid in both. Oxybenzone has also bee banned from many countries due to the effect on coral reefs and fish. Nanoparticles from the chemicals are absorbed by the coral and ingested by fish, thus killing off our reefs and ending up in our food chain.

Octinoxate – This has been found in blood samples 16x above FDA safety limit. It has been found to be an endocrine disruptor and decreases thyroid production.

Octocrylene – High rates of skin allergies and often contaminated with known carcinogen oxybenzone. Also toxic to aquatic life.

Octisalate – Used as a UV filter. Also can be a hormone disrupts as it weakly binds to estrogen receptors, and has been linked to cases of contact dermatitis.

Homosilate – UV filter, has been associated with hormone disruption. The European Commission allowed only up to 0.5% concentration, whereas the US allows 15%.

Avobenzone – Blocks UVA but is unstable and needs stabilizers to prevent breakdown. Can block the effects of testosterone and can cause skin allergies.

Mineral Sunscreens

As for mineral (physical) sunscreens, as of 2019, they are considered “safe and effective” by the FDA. The two main ingredients to look for are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which provide a skin barrier with minimal penetration of the skin. . They don’t come without risks though. If in a spray or powder form, they can have inhalation concerns if they get into the lungs. Look for them in a cream form. Because these ingredients do not absorb into the skin, leaving a white coat on your skin, they can be tricky to wash out of clothes. Look for sunscreen that contains these ingredients as microparticles, and not nanoparticles, as the smaller nanoparticles can be ingested by coral.

Chemical or Mineral Sunscreen?

Chemical or mineral sunscreen? Neither is perfect. Most important approach is to avoid exposure to the sun, cover up as much as you can (swimsuit, SPF-rated clothing, wide-brim hat), and apply sunscreen to exposed skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends at least a broad-spectrum with SPF 30 or greater. If you can, avoid the sun from 10am -2pm or find a nice shady spot to reduce exposure to the damaging rays.

Sunscreen Reminders:

Stay in the Shade: use an umbrella, tree, or other shelter to protect your skin from the sun
Clothing: cover as much of your skin as possible
Hat: wear a hat with a brim that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck
Sunglasses: wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays
Sunscreen: put on broad-spectrum sunscreen without toxic ingredients that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of 30 or higher before you go outside and don’t forget to reapply after 2 hours or after swimming, sweating, or toweling off

How to Check for Safe Clean Sunscreen Products

When you are standing in the sunscreen aisle of the market scratching your head as to what is best for you, try the apps: www.ewg.org/apps/ or thinkdirtyapp.com. to scan products and find how they rate for your health. These will provide “reef safe” ratings as well for all your aquatic adventures.

 

References

1 Matta MK, Florian J, Zusterzeel R, Pilli NR, Patel V, Volpe DA, Yang Y, Oh L, Bashaw E, Zineh I, Sanabria C, Kemp S, Godfrey A, Adah S, Coelho S, Wang J, Furlong LA, Ganley C, Michele T, Strauss DG. Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2020 Jan 21;323(3):256-267. doi: 10.1001/ jama.2019.20747. Erratum in: JAMA. 2020 Mar 17;323(11):1098. PMID: 31961417; PMCID: PMC6990686.

2 Schneider SL, Lim HW. Review of environmental effects of oxybenzone and other sunscreen active ingredients. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019 Jan;80(1):266-271. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2018.06.033. Epub 2018 Nov 14. PMID: 29981751.

3 DiNardo JC, Downs CA. Dermatological and environmental toxicological impact of the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone/ benzophenone-3. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2018 Feb;17(1):15-19. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12449. Epub 2017 Oct 31. PMID: 29086472.

4 Matta MK, Florian J, Zusterzeel R, Pilli NR, Patel V, Volpe DA, Yang Y, Oh L, Bashaw E, Zineh I, Sanabria C, Kemp S, Godfrey A, Adah S, Coelho S, Wang J, Furlong LA, Ganley C, Michele T, Strauss DG. Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2020 Jan 21;323(3):256-267. doi: 10.1001/ jama.2019.20747. Erratum in: JAMA. 2020 Mar 17;323(11):1098. PMID: 31961417; PMCID: PMC6990686.

5 Stien D, Clergeaud F, Rodrigues AMS, Lebaron K, Pillot R, Romans P, Fagervold S, Lebaron P. Metabolomics Reveal That Octocrylene Accumulates in Pocillopora damicornis Tissues as Fatty Acid Conjugates and Triggers Coral Cell Mitochondrial Dysfunction. Anal Chem. 2019 Jan 2;91(1):990-995. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.8b04187. Epub 2018 Dec 18. PMID: 30516955.

6 Singh, Minal & Beck, M. (2007). Octyl salicylate: A new contact sensitivity. Contact dermatitis. 56. 48. 10.1111/ j.1600-0536.2007.00942.x.

7 Bernauer, U., et al (2021). Scientific Committee on consumer safety SCCS the … – european commission. ec.europa.eu. Retrieved June 13, 2022, from https://ec.europa.eu/health/system/files/2021-04/sccs_o_250_0.pdf

8 Ivana Klopčič, Marija Sollner Dolenc, Endocrine Activity of AVB, 2MR, BHA, and Their Mixtures, Toxicological Sciences, Volume 156, Issue 1, March 2017, Pages 240–251

9 Hubaud, Jc & Guerin, Didier & Salvo, Morgane & Branka, Jean-Eric & Mekideche, Karim & Piccerelle, Philippe. (2021). Real Facts about Safety and Efficacy of Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide in Solar Products. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. 253-262. 10.4236/jcdsa.2021.113021.

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Marit Zimmerman, ND

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