3 Things You Must Know About Sunscreens

( - The skin is the body’s largest organ, and so it is vital that we protect it at all costs. Protecting it from the sun is among the top concerns, with millions of Americans stocking up on sunscreen throughout the year to avoid:

  • Pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions
  • Benign tumors
  • Fine and coarse wrinkles
  • Freckles
  • Discolored areas of the skin
  • The destruction of the elastic and collagen tissue

But not all sunscreens are created equal, and it’s important to know what’s in what you’re using, since our skin can absorb much of what we put on it.

While sunscreen is marketed to protect our health, many popular brands contain harmful chemicals that can enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body, damaging the immune and endocrine systems.

Every year, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a guide on sunscreens that includes a list of which chemicals to look out for. Their 2016 Guide to Sunscreens will keep you up-to-date on said ingredients, along with their picks for the safest brands and products.

Name brands like Banana Boat and Coppertone made the list, among many others you’ve likely had your hands on. So, before you lather up again, check sunscreen labels for the most common and concerning ingredients listed below.

1. The Worst Sunscreen Ingredients

1. Oxybenzone

Because it absorbs and filters UV light, oxybenzone is a common ingredient in sunscreen. But this chemical has been reported to cause an alarming amount of skin allergies and penetrates the skin at extremely high rates. It also acts like estrogen once entering the bloodstream, which reduces sperm production and can even cause endometriosis. The chemical compound has even been found in the bloodstream of almost every American.

2. Octinoxate

Octinoxate is readily absorbed by the skin and aids other ingredients to be absorbed more readily as well. Hormone disruption is one of the biggest concerns associated with this common sunscreen ingredient. Its effects on estrogen can affect the reproductive system and thyroid. Furthermore, while sunscreens are touted for their ability to protect the skin against sun-induced aging, octinoxate may actually be a culprit for premature aging since it generates free radicals that can damage skin and cells.

3. Retinyl Palmitate

A form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant. Its job in sunscreen is to improve the product’s performance against the aging effects of UV exposure, but retinyl palmitate — a combination of retinol (vitamin A) and palmitic acid — can wreak havoc on the body.

Upon exposure to the sun’s UV rays, retinol compounds break down and produce destructive free radicals that are toxic to cells, damage DNA, and can even cause cancer.

4. Homosalate

This common ingredient also works to aid sunscreen in penetrating your skin, but once absorbed, homosalate builds up in the body quicker than it can be detoxified through the liver. This means it sticks around, lingering in the body and increasing toxic burden while disrupting hormones.

5. Octocrylene

When exposed to UV light, this chemical absorbs the rays and produces free radicals that can damage cells and cause mutations. It can also easily accumulate within the body, as it is readily absorbed by the skin in measurable amounts. It has also been noted to be toxic to the environment.

6. Parabens

A group of synthetic compounds commonly added to beauty and body products, parabens (butyl-, ethyl-, methyl-, and propyl-) are know to induce allergic reactions, hormone disruption, and developmental and reproductive toxicity. In fact, there are a whopping five common types of parabens that have even been banned in the EU, which has put pressure on the FDA to ban them in the U.S.

2. Safer Alternatives

Now that you’re aware of the main ones to avoid, you may be wondering if there’s anything left! But don’t worry, there are safer alternatives to toxic ingredients. Here is a list of five of the safer ones:

1. Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense SPF 30

While the word “nontoxic” gets thrown around a lot these days, this brand means business when they say it. It’s formulated with zinc oxide for UV protection, and rich in potent antioxidants like sunflower sprout extract and algae extract (to protect against free radical damage and the aging effects of the sun).

It’s also fragrance- and irritant-free, so even the most sensitive skin can take advantage of it.

2. BANXBlock Fragrance Free SPF 40

Are you a water lover? If you spend much of your time surfing, paddle boarding, or simply taking frequent dips to splash or get your heart rate up with a few strokes, this sunscreen is the one for you. Created by a plastic surgeon from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this product was created with water and sports enthusiasts in mind. A nontoxic product with a mineral-based formula, it wont harm your skin or the marine life and coral reefs either.

3. Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen, SPF 30

Certified organic, preservative-free and designed for babies, children and adults, Babo’s sunscreen products use zinc oxide as its primary sunblock. It’s particularly great if you plan on swimming, sweating or being outside for prolonged periods of time.

4. Juice Beauty Sport Sunscreen SPF 30

This water-resistant, chemical-free SPF is another great option. While it’s a bit thick and best used for the body, the formula offers jojoba oil and soothing aloe that will feel good on your skin. It’s also rich in skin-boosting vitamins, and has a sweet smell to boot.

5. Beautycounter Protect All Over Sunscreen SPF 30

Do you despise the streaky white look you often get after applying sunscreen? Then this one’s likely up your alley. Made with a non-nano zinc formula, it will blend into your skin without leaving behind any awkward residue. It also offers hydrating aloe and antioxidant-rich green tea and blood orange extracts to boot.

3. Additional Things To Consider Before Applying Sunscreen

Along with it being pertinent that you are aware of the toxic ingredients to avoid in sunscreen, as well as the best alternatives to take advantage of, it’s also important that you get your facts straight. Here are three important things to consider:

1. Melanoma is the most deadly form of cancer, and rates have tripled over the past 35 years. While this might make you reach for the sunscreen, most scientists and public health agencies haven’t found very much evidence to support the theory that sunscreen prevents most types of cancer.

2. While the number that follows SPF on a product may determine whether you purchase it or not, don’t be fooled. The FDA is trying to ban the sale of sunscreens with SPF values greater than 50-plus, since the increase in UVB protection is minimal. UV radiation reaches the earth in the form of UVB and UVA rays, but it is UVB radiation that is typically linked to skin cancer. SPF mainly accounts for the amount of UVB protection a sunblock product offers.

3. Sunscreen sprays may seem convenient, but they’re not recommended. “We don’t recommend that consumers use these products,” notes Environmental Working Group’s Senior Scientist Dave Andrews. “There are inhalation concerns as you are breathing in these sunscreen ingredients when you apply them, and it’s difficult to get an adequate coating on your skin to even verify that people are applying an adequate amount.”

Lather up, but lather smart. You can get skin cancer from the sun — but from sunscreen too. Choose safer alternatives and always keep up-to-date.

Written by Alexa Erickson
Inspired by balance, Alexa finds that her true inner peace comes from executing a well-rounded lifestyle. An avid yogi, hiker, beach bum, music and art enthusiast, salad aficionado, adventure seeker, animal lover, and professional writer, she is an active individual who loves to express herself through the power of words. See more articles by this author
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