Sunscreen should be a no-brainer. It's crucial for preventing burns and to protecting against harmful UVA and UVB rays that can cause skin cancer and premature aging. Recently concerns around sunscreen have surfaced: we don't know how safe sunscreen ingredients are, they have never been appropriately tested and they absorb into our bloodstream shortly after application.
According to the EWG (The Environmental Working Group is an American activist group that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability), "the most common sunscreens contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate". (1)
A groundbreaking study found that sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream shortly after application at extremely high levels (2). Due to a fundamental lack of testing we are unsure of the health repercussions of these active ingredients. "Lab studies shows that some chemical UV filters may mimic hormones... which raises important questions about unintended human health consequences from frequent sunscreen application." (3) The EWG database confirms many sunscreen ingredients are known endocrine hormone disruptions.
Generally speaking, Endocrine disruptors can cause abnormal development of fetuses and growing children, early puberty and premature breast development in girls, and small and descended testicles in boys. They have also been linked to low sperm counts and infertility. Endocrine disruptors can act like estrogen and may contribute to the development of breast and ovarian cancers in women, and other endocrine disruptors may increase the chance of prostate cancer in men (4, 5). “The problem is that we just don’t know. The bottom line is that although the evidence is irrefutable that the sun causes skin cancer, scientists know a lot less about sunscreen chemicals’ relative risks and benefits. (6)
When the FDA began to consider sunscreen safety, it grandfathered in active ingredients from the late 1970s without reviewing the evidence of their potential hazards. (7)
What we know now is this: the FDA is for the first time proposing that active ingredients in sunscreen be sufficiently tested to determine the rate of absorption through the skin and the health impacts that may result from exposure to those ingredients. Based on existing test data, only two ingredients so far have been ruled safe and effective—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both of which are mineral sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens use physical barriers which sit on top of the skin and block the absorption of rays. These work differently than chemical filters which we know absorb into the skin and bloodstream, then block the rays.
So far it appears chemical sunscreen filters are not just problematic for our health but for our oceans as well. Recent studies have found that sunscreen chemicals, especially oxybenzone and octinoxate, decrease corals’ defenses against bleaching, damaging their DNA and hurting their development. A 2015 study showed that oxybenzone starts causing serious damage to corals at concentrations as low as the equivalent of one drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools (8). Currently, Key West, Hawaii and the Western Pacific nation of Palau have banned or restricted the sales of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate in order to protect the coral reefs (9).
I'm on a mission to steer your in the right direction to fix this sunscreen epidemic for ourselves and our oceans.
There is a high level of concern around sunscreen safety but we are finally reaching a point where concern is driving a re-evaluation and change to the industry! But in the meantime? There's a solution to this: only use mineral sunscreens. It is currently the only sunscreen with enough data to ensure that it is safe, both for you and our oceans.
The most common complaints with mineral sunscreens are:
Because mineral sunscreens sit on the surface of the skin they can be a little harder to rub in. I've tried several brands but I found Beautycounter's Countersun products do a great job at rubbing in, leaving very little white-hue. They also have an EWG approved tinted non-aerosol mist sunscreens in two shades (light-medium & medium-deep) which completely eliminate any potential of a white-hue.
If you tend to dry out (both the sun and zinc tend to be very drying, so this is a common side effect) make sure to apply a good EWG approved lotion or after sun gel / spray post shower to re-hydrate your skin.
A note about mist/spray sunscreens:
Most mist sunscreens use aerosol mechanisms which are extremely detrimental to the respiratory system. I only recommend using air-vac mist technology if you prefer mist sunscreens. If you find a mineral sunscreen mist that is made with an air-vac system, make sure it contains non-nano zinc oxide - this particle size is important to ensure there is no potential risk of respiration when sprayed and does not enter the blood stream to cause harmful effects to the body.
Oral Sun Protection:
These supplements (in gummy or capsule form) contain Polypodium leucotomos extract (tropical fern) which has photo-protective properties after it is ingested. Many studies have shown it to be surprisingly effective at defending skin against damage from the sun (ultraviolet radiation). Read more about the active ingredient here.