Sunscreen Ingredients 101
We’re here to help you sort through the information and figure out what’s right for you.
Sunscreen is obviously an amazing invention and critical in preventing the serious dangers of skin cancer and sun damage. Finding a sunscreen that’s right for you and your skin is important, but it can be pretty tough. Many people search long and hard for a sunscreen that will blend seamlessly under makeup and won’t leave that annoying white residue on your face.
When you put on sunscreen to protect yourself from the harmful UV radiation, we want to make sure you’re not unnecessarily endangering yourself.
Recently, the news circuit erupted with articles about a potential concern around common sunscreen ingredients. The concern being, that they absorb into the bloodstream within hours of application. This study from the FDA confirmed what many scientists already knew about many common ingredients. The FDA stated a while back that certain ingredients warranted more research to determine safety. The lax-to-non-existent regulations, however, on ingredients in North America allow free inclusion of pretty much whatever companies want to use. Just to be clear — while this study demonstrates just how easily chemicals become incorporated into our bloodstream, no specific information on the toxicity of these ingredients was included. The ingredients at hand in this particular study were Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, and Ecamsule.
In general, there are two types of sunscreen: chemical and mineral. Chemical or synthetic sunscreens generally work by using chemicals that absorb UV rays and convert them into heat. For example, the ingredients from the FDA study would be used in chemical sunscreens. Mineral or physical sunscreens use either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, ingredients which essentially deflect UV rays.
The ingredients used in chemical sunscreens, unfortunately, have shown some pretty disappointing results in scientific studies. Oxybenzone, in particular, has been linked to hormone disruption and cell damage that is associated with skin cancer. Oxybenzone is a compound that absorbs UVA and UVB rays, decreasing their ability to penetrate into the skin. Oxybenzone can be misleading because it is technically an organic ingredient, but that word is not synonymous with safety!
For children especially, mineral sunscreens that use ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are the way to go.
Think Dirty’s suggestion is to stick to liquid sunscreens. We know, sprayable aerosol formulas are so much quicker and easier to use. But any aerosol formula carries a risk of inhalation. While certain sunscreen ingredients are shown to be safe for topical use, you don’t necessarily want to be breathing them in. The liquid form of titanium dioxide has shown in scientific studies that it cannot penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. If inhaled, it may harm the respiratory system. Zinc oxide, the active ingredient used widely in mineral sunscreens, is a similar situation. Either one in a liquid sunscreen would be the safest option.
As bad as it may sound, protecting yourself from UV rays takes precedence over using products with potentially dangerous ingredients. Consider switching to sunscreen from a clean brand and ditching the old ones. Even if the toxicity of these active sunscreen ingredients has yet to be determined, many big sunscreen brands use other dangerous ingredients like Parabens, BHT, synthetic fragrances, and Diazolidinyl Urea, of which the toxic effects are already widely known. There are many safe options that use only non-toxic, clean-proven ingredients. This way you get protection all around.
We didn’t want to dump all that information on you without giving you some actual concrete options to try out as it warms up outside. Check out our full sunscreen guide to see our favourite non-toxic options and see what might work best for you. Happy summer from the team at Think Dirty!
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