what sunscreens are safe to use?
The information around which sunscreens are safe for use has heated up since the article by MK Matta, which demonstrated that specific levels of oxybenzone, a type of chemical sunscreen, are not considered safe. The study assessed subjects who were exposed to repeated applications of the chemical lotion and its impacts on the blood stream.
It's an important discussion, but first, let's break down the differences amongst chemical and physical (mineral) sunscreens and why you should be paying more attention to the ingredient label on the back of your skincare products. There's a lot of information you could sift through, and we've tried to summarize the main things to keep in mind when looking at mineral or chemical skincare products.
While we don't go in depth on various claims, it's important to remember that not all ingredients are created equal. Terms such as “reef safe” or “reef friendly” are not regulated by law, meaning companies can use them even if there are toxic ingredients to reef life. If you are looking for sunscreens that are dermatologist recommended and 100% safe by the FDA, you will never go wrong with mineral based products!
The FDA does not have enough data on chemical sunscreens products to determine if they can be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). Mineral sunscreens are considered 100% Safe by the FDA.
Impact on the environment
Studies have identified UV filters such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate, and ethylhexyl salicylate in many water sources worldwide. Common wastewater treatment plants do not easily remove these ingredients.
In addition, there is also a fair amount of controversy around the effects of sunscreen on the coral reef. In laboratory settings (not in the ocean), oxybenzone has been explicitly implicated as a possible contributor to coral reef bleaching.
Several states have banned chemical sunscreens until further proof that these ingredients are not harmful to the coral reef. Common sunscreen ingredients such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate have been identified in various fish species worldwide, which may have possible consequences for the food chain and the environment.
The impacts of these findings have yet to be determined. The FDA requires further research of these ingredients to better assess their safety for both humans and the environment.
Impact On Our Bodies
Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays and releasing heat. Chemical sunscreens contain one or more of the following active ingredients:
While chemical sunscreens provide excellent sun protection, the ingredients are also absorbed into the bloodstream. Much of the literature on chemical sunscreen active ingredients focuses on one specific chemical ingredient, oxybenzone.
In addition to being used in sunscreen, oxybenzone is also present in plastic, hairspray, and nail polish. Unfortunately, there is currently not enough evidence from recent reports to make conclusive claims on the safety of chemical ingredients.
For example, a recent systematic study could not find a causal relationship between the elevated systemic level of oxybenzone and adverse health outcomes.
A non-causal relationship does not mean that these products are safe. It simply means there is not enough information.
Mineral sunscreen advantages
Mineral-based sunscreens are physical blockers, meaning they are not absorbed into our bloodstream. Mineral sunscreen ingredients will have the following as the only active ingredients.
- zinc oxide
- ferrous (iron) and/or titanium dioxide
In particular, men should look for ultralight products that are geared toward their skin. The two minerals that are approved as GRAS (Generally regarded as safe) by the FDA are titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO).
These work by absorbing and reflecting ultraviolet rays. Newer formulations use ultra-fine (150-400 nm) and nano particles (smaller than 100 nm) to ensure an appearance that is more similar to chemical. Mineral sunscreens, today, not only feel great but also are 100% safe and effective.
Traditionally, Zinc Oxide absorbs across both UVA and UVB spectrum while Titanium dioxide tends to be effective as a UVB blocker, in particular at smaller sizes.
Of note, while some mineral options can come in the form of aerosols, due to potential negative effects of the minerals when inhaled, powder and spray products are discouraged.
So, what should i do?
As always, make sure to compliment your SPF with a full sun protection program that includes a sun hat, sunglasses, sun shirt and shade. To be confident that you are using a fully safe and effective program, stick with mineral every time.
A comprehensive routine will set you up for success!
At the end of the day, just be kind to yourself as you are figuring it out. Reach out to us at email@example.com with any questions or if we can be of help in any way.