The Truth About Sunscreen

New Report on Sunscreen: 90% are toxic and 3 out of 5 don’t work

According to the Environmental Working Group, only 1 out of 10 commercial sunscreens are considered safe and only 3 out of 5 of the 1608 sunscreens tested fully protect your skin from the sun.

UVA Rays Are More Harmful Than UVB Rays

There are two main UV rays that are potentially harmful to the skin. They are UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are more abundant and penetrate deeper into the skin, making them more harmful than the UVB rays. Though UVB rays are essential for good health in short doses, they are responsible for sunburns because they tend to stay on the skin’s surface. As a result, UVB rays were blamed for causing skin cancers. The SPF (skin protection factor) rating system measures the ability for a sunscreen to block UVB rays -not the more harmful UVA rays. In other words, a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 will block out all UVB rays but may not block any UVA rays.

Skin Cancer Rates Have Exploded Though Use of Sunscreen Has Increased

We now know that the UVB rays are not the main cause of skin cancer – it is the UVA rays that are more damaging. Commercially, 3 out of 5 sunscreens do not adequately protect us against skin cancer-causing UVA rays. What’s worse is that for 30 years sunscreens have been blocking the good UVB rays, while letting in the harmful UVA rays.

While sunscreen use has increased, so has the incidence of skin cancers. Skin cancer rates have soared to over a million cases per year in the United States. 2009 is the first year we are seeing sunscreens claiming protection against both UVA and UVB rays. But remember, the SPF on the label only guarantees protection from UVB, which are the “good rays”.

UVB Rays Make Vitamin D

Most importantly, the UVB rays make vitamin d, which protects the skin from the sun as well as the bones from osteoporosis. Low vitamin d levels have also been linked to about 16 different cancers including skin cancer, auto immune diseases, cardio-vascular disease, high blood pressure, poor cognitive function, dementia and predisposition to genetic or familial diseases.

Sunscreens, because they block UVB, have been reported to reduce vitamin d levels in the blood by 97-99%, putting us all at great risk.

In 1978 the FDA promised to make a ruling on sunscreens, to inform and protect us – but we are still waiting. So we, the consumer must guess which sunscreen is safe and will effectively block both UVA and UVB rays.

Lack of Sun Exposure is Dangerous

While excessive exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer, the research shows that the greater risk is lack of sun exposure, which leads to low levels of vitamin d. The extreme thinking that any sun exposure is harmful is being re-thought. For vitamin d production you need 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight on your skin (without sunscreen) every day. After 10 to 15 minutes, when the skin starts to turns pink, continued UV exposure may cause damage. The exact amount of time needed to be safe and produce vitamin D will depend on the skin type, healthy function and the amount of natural pigment in the skin. (I will write a newsletter soon on what you need to know about vitamin d and how to get it).

Only a Few Sunscreen Ingredients are Safe

There are only a few active sunscreen ingredients that effectively block both UVA and UVB rays. The only ones that are both safe and effective for UVA and UVB protection are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which do not penetrate the skin. They block or reflect the sun.

Avoid sunscreens with Oxtinoxate, Octisalate, Oxybenzone or Homosalate. These chemicals are toxic and have high absorption rates through the skin. They act as either irritants, allergens, hormone disruptors or carcinogens.

See below for an evaluation of the most common sunscreen ingredients.

How to Find the Best Sunscreens

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the only sun blocks you should be using during extreme sun exposure. They may be combined with other natural moisturizers but no other sun blocking agents are both safe and totally effective.

When you know you are going to be in the sun for extended periods, apply a sunblock that has 6-25% zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Nano-technology has helped these blend into the skin better and don’t leave your skin that tell tale zinc oxide white color. Nano-technology, or micronization, is where the zinc oxide is reduced in size down to a billionth of a meter.

Healthy Skin Function is the Best Sunscreen

In Ayurveda, is is true in many tropical cultures, the goal is not to just block the sun’s rays but to also help the skin function better as an organ so the skin can better protect itself. No doubt, white skin under an intense sun will need a block of some kind.

LifeSpa Body Butter has Natural SPF

In 1996 I started developing a natural and non-preserved skin care line with a natural pharmacist. My goal was to help restore the function of the skin as an effective organ of elimination, which is required for optimal health. Body Butter is a natural sunscreen that acts more like a medicine for the skin. It combines shea butter, avocado butter, mango butter and herbs that help heal, protect and restore function of the skin. It has an SPF of 4 which means that it gives 120 minutes of protection from the sun. (SPF = the amount of time it takes for average skin to burn, which is 30 minutes x the SPF factor.) New research shows that all sunscreens, no matter how high the SPF, should be re-applied every 60-90 minutes as they do break down. Studies show this to be true even with sunscreens with an SPF of 50. I recommend using a natural sunscreen with a lower SPF and apply it more frequently. If you experience extreme exposure or have delicate skin, use either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as a block.

You can buy good quality zinc oxide at your local grocery store in the baby care section. Diaper rash creams are usually pure zinc oxide and can be bought at a fraction of the price of the zinc oxide in the sunscreen section. This zinc oxide cream can also be mixed with your favorite lotion or Body Butter for a homemade safe and effective sunscreen.

Healthy Sun Exposure and Sun Protection

Shortly after I developed the Body Butter I spent a summer with my family on the Jersey shore when I was working with the New Jersey Nets. I put Body Butter on myself and the kids every morning. With a few applications throughout the day we spent long days in the direct sun on the beach with no sun burns.

It was then I realized that there are two components to healthy sun exposure and protection:

  1. First, bring your skin into balance. Healthy functional skin is a natural sunscreen.
  2. Second, use a safe and natural sun block when needed. Daily use of the Body Butter in the shower each morning, even weeks before sun exposure, will start to restore normal function to the skin to allow better sun protection naturally while promising a more healthy, radiant complexion.

 

Active Ingredient

Number of
Sunscreens

UV Blocking Spectrum

Unstable
Combinations

Health Hazard

OCTINOXATE (OCTYL METHOXYCINNAMATE) [stability details]

756 products

6 minor
6 major

 

 

4

The most widely used sunscreen ingredient, known for its low potential to sensitize skin or act as a phototallergen. Estrogenic effects are noted in laboratory animals as well as disruption of thyroid hormone and brain signaling.

 

 

 

OXYBENZONE (BENZOPHENONE-3) [stability details]

646 products

2 minor
3 major

 

 

9

Associated with photoallergic reactions. This chemical absorbs through the skin in significant amounts. It contaminates the bodies of 97% of Americans according to Centers for Disease Control research.

 

 

 

OCTISALATE [stability details]

666 products

7 minor
0 major

 

 

3

Octisalate is a weak UVB absorber with a generally good safety profile among sunscreen ingredients. It is a penetration enhancer, which may increase the amount of other ingredients passing through skin.

 

 

 

AVOBENZONE (PARSOL 1789 | BUTYL METHOXYDIBENZOYLMETHANE) [stability details]

489 products

15 minor
9 major

 

 

3

Sunlight causes this unstable ingredient to break down into unknown chemicals, especially in the presence of another active, Octinoxate. Primarily a UVA-absorbing agent.

 

 

 

OCTOCRYLENE [stability details]

381 products

1 minor
0 major

 

 

4

Octocrylene may be used in combination with other UV absorbers to achieve higher SPF formulas. It produces oxygen radicals when exposed to UV light.

 

 

 

HOMOSALATE [stability details]

331 products

1 minor
0 major

 

 

5

A UVB protector. Research indicates it is a weak hormone disruptor, forms toxic metabolites, and can enhance the penetration of a toxic herbicide.

 

 

 

ZINC OXIDE (Z-COTE, 60nm) [stability details]

28 products

0 minor
0 major

3

-

7

Sunscreens with micronized zinc oxide may contain nanoparticles. Micronized zinc offers improved sun protection compared to conventional (larger) particles. Micronized zinc particles do not penetrate healthy skin but may be more toxic to living cells and the environment. Inhalation of powders and sprays is a concern.

 

 

 

TITANIUM DIOXIDE (NON-NANO) [stability details]

24 products

0 minor
0 major

1

-

6

Titanium dioxide has a long history of use in sunscreen and other products. It appears safe for use on skin, due to low penetration but inhalation is a concern. Some titanium sunscreens containing nano-size particles may have greater toxicity to body tissues and environment.

 

 

 

ENSULIZOLE (PHENYLBENZIMIDAZOLE SULFONIC ACID) [stability details]

72 products

0 minor
1 major

 

 

3

Known to produce free radicals when exposed to sunlight, leading to damage of DNA, this UVB protector may have the potential to cause cancer.

 

 

 

NANO ZINC OXIDE (20-60nm) [stability details]

262 products

0 minor
0 major

3

-

9

Nano zinc oxide offers greater sun protection than larger zinc particles. Comparatively little is known regarding potential health effects of nanoparticles. They do not penetrate healthy skin, and thus appear to pose a low health risk in lotions. Inhalation of powders and sprays is a concern.

 

 

 

NANO TITANIUM DIOXIDE [stability details]

318 products

0 minor
0 major

3

-

10

Nano TiO2 offers greater sun protection than larger titanium particles. Comparatively little is known regarding potential health effects of nanoparticles. They do not penetrate healthy skin, and thus appear to pose a low health risk in lotions. Inhalation of powders and sprays is a concern.

 

 

 

ZINC OXIDE (NON-NANO) [stability details]

26 products

0 minor
0 major

1

-

5

Zinc has a long history of use in sunscreen and other skin care products; little absorption and no adverse health effects are reported. Some sunscreens with zinc contain nanoparticles which do not penetrate skin but may pose toxicity concerns if inhaled or in the environment.

 

 

 

PADIMATE O (OCTYL DIMETHYL PABA | PABA ESTER) [stability details]

14 products

4 minor
4 major

 

 

6

A derivative of the once-popular PABA sunscreen ingredient, research shows this chemical releases free radicals, damages DNA, has estrogenic activity, and causes allergic reactions in some people.

 

 

 

MENTHYL ANTHRANILATE [stability details]

14 products

0 minor
0 major

 

 

2

A moderately effective UVA protector not permitted for use in Europe or Japan. 1 study found that it produces damaging reactive oxygen species when exposed to sunlight.

 

 

 

MEXORYL SX [stability details]

9 products

1 minor
0 major

 

 

3

FDA approved use of this UVA-absorbing agent in 2006. 2 hours of sunlight can degrade as much as 40% of this active ingredient. Low skin penetration.

 

 

 

METHYLENE BIS-BENZOTRIAZOLYL TETRAMETHYLBUTYLPHENOL [stability details]

4 products

0 minor
0 major

 

 

1

Not an approved active ingredient in the U.S., Tinosorb M may still be found in some cosmetic products. Few studies exist on this chemical. It is photostable and does not absorb through the skin.

 

 

 

SULISOBENZONE (BENZOPHENONE-4) [stability details]

3 products

0 minor
0 major

3

-

4

Can cause skin and eye irritation. Does not penetrate the skin to a large degree, but enhances the ability of other chemicals to penetrate.

 

 

 

BENZOPHENONE-2 [stability details]

1 products

no spectra available

0 minor
0 major

 

 

3

Not approved for use in United States sunscreens. Concerns about hormone disruption.

 

 

 

CINOXATE [stability details]

1 products

no spectra available

0 minor
0 major

 

 

3

Though approved as a sunscreen active ingredient in the U.S., this UVB absorber is no longer in common use.

 

 

 

Reference:
From The Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org/whichsunscreensarebest/2009report

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