There is a lot of buzz about toxic ingredients in sunscreen, and rightly so. Everyone should consider their skin to be sensitive and focus on sensitive skin sunscreen. Most people use sunscreen to allow them to stay in the sun longer without worry of skin damage. Some studies have reported there could be health concerns with the ingredients in sunscreen, outweighing the benefits of their skin protection. Many sunscreens include highly irritating ingredients. Of course, there are many types of sunscreen to choose from, with most people focusing on the higher number SPF to maximize sun exposure. However, there is more to it than just the SPF number when it comes to choosing the best sunscreen for you and your family.
What is Sun Protection Factor (SPF)?
The SPF indicates the amount of protection a sunscreen offers against UVB, which is the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn. According to the American Cancer Society, sunscreen is recommended in order to prevent skin cancer, specifically squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma. The problem is that many sunscreens do not block the harmful rays of the sun known as UVA radiation. UVA may not cause sunburn but can harm the skin cells and increase the risk of skin cancer.
You can use higher sunscreen with high sun protection factors, but it still may not block these harmful rays. Many sun worshippers believe if they normally get sunburn in two hours, an SPF 20 sunscreen will help prevent sunburn for an extra 20 hours, or 20 times longer exposure.
Sunscreen with UVA versus UVB
Most people see UVA and UVB on labels, but what are UVA and UVB and what is the difference between UVA vs. UVB? The UVA (ultraviolet A) penetrates the skin, causing wrinkles and other skin damage, while UVB (ultraviolet B) causes sunburns. Scientists used to report damage only with UVB and cancer, but now suspect UVA as well. UVA has also been called the aging rays, while UVB rays are the sun’s burning rays. The SPF (sun protection factor) number let you know how much protection you’ll get. For example, if you would normally get sunburn in 10 minutes, an SPF 15 extends that by 15 times. So you could last 150 minutes without burning. From recent studies, more than SPF 30 is not needed.
Most sunscreen either absorb ultraviolet light with a specific chemical or they block, reflect, scatter and absorb UV light. Rather than focusing only on the SPF to measure the effectiveness of the sunscreen for your skin, other factors should be considered.
- How sensitive your skin is — As mentioned above, you’re better off always choosing safe sensitive skin sunscreen, no matter what your skin type. Usually, these types of sunscreen contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are two very important ingredients in sunblock. FDA has rated these two sunscreen ingredients as safe and effective towards sun block.
- How often you apply it — If you apply the sunscreen in the morning and do not apply it after swimming or sweating, the protection is lost. Even if the product lists it as waterproof, it’s important to re-apply it.
- Active ingredients used — Certain ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sunscreen are the healthy sunscreen active ingredients, while some others may be of concern. For example, PABA was found to increase DNA defects. Padimate O, oxybenzone, dioxybenzone and others have not been tested for safety. Zinc oxide has been shown to protect against skin tumors in mice.
In 2009, a study by Center for Disease Control found the common UVA blocker oxybenzone in the urine of 2,500 people who regularly used sunscreens. Oxybenzone has been reported to have hormone-like activity and is not recommended by EWG. After testing 1,000 brands of sunscreen, EWG found many with potentially toxic ingredients, including oxybenzone.
FDA Label Regulations for Sunscreen
The final FDA rules established in 2012 bans “waterproof” claims, instead products can claim water resistant up to 80 minutes of exposure. Also claims of protection over 2 hours are not allowed without specific approval.
What to Look For in Sensitive Skin Sunscreen
The two main ingredients to look for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These offer broad-spectrum protection without potential harmful and irritating side effects. No matter what your skin type, choose a safe sensitive skin sunscreen that includes these two ingredients, but is free of parabens and other irritating ingredients. In other words, sunscreen should also be hypoallergenic, should not clog pores (noncomedogenic) and be considered as broad-spectrum, which means it protects against UVA and UVB radiation.
Natural Sunblock and Safe Sunscreen Ingredients
The best recommended ingredients for sun protection are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These two ingredients protect against both UVA and UVB. They are also the two important ingredients in natural sunblock.
Sunscreen is more transparent when applied. Unless it lists zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as ingredients, it will not act as a sunblock.
How to Protect Yourself in Summer or Winter
- Keep sunscreen and lip balm with you at all time, in your car and purse.
- Use a natural sunscreen preferably zinc oxide sunscreen.
- Keep a broad-rimmed hat in your car and wear it during sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM, when ultraviolet rays are strongest.
- Lotion sunscreens are not waterproof, but may be water resistant. Re-apply since they do wear off.
- Children have sensitive, delicate skin and should especially be protected with proper clothing to cover sun exposed areas. Baby sunscreen brands are available.
- Wear sunglasses to help prevent damage like cataracts or vision loss at older age.
- Your lips also need sun cream. Protect your lips with natural lip balm with shea butter.
- Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before exposure.
- Make sure to apply to face, hands, neck, ears, hands and arms.
FDA Allowable Ingredients in Sunscreens, and Results for Safety
- Padimate O — not supported by European Union (EU), may be delisted by FDA
- p-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA) — shown to increase DNA defects
- Cinoxate — not tested for safety
- Dioxybenzone — not tested for safety
- Oxybenzone — not tested for safety
- Homosalate — not tested for safety
- Menthyl Anthranilate — not tested for safety
- Octocrylene — increases reactive oxygen in skin, advancing aging
- Octyl Salicylate — not tested for safety
- Trolamine Salicylate — not tested for safety
- Zinc Oxide — protects skin against tumors in mice