When shopping for sunscreen, the #1 goal is to protect our skin and our children’s skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Exposure to UV rays is the main factor that causes skin cells to become cancer cells, so a good sunscreen is a-must for everyone who spends time outdoors in the summer. Both chemical (aka synthetic and conventional) sunscreen ingredients and mineral (aka physical) ingredients protect from the sun’s harmful rays. However, did you know that many chemical sunscreen ingredients are harmful because they're unstable when exposed to sunlight? They also mess with our hormones and offer no other benefit to our skin.
When putting sunscreen onto your child’s skin this summer, here are three things to consider beyond the SPF rating about your chemical sunscreen ingredients.
1. TOXIC SPF INGREDIENTS IN SUNSCREEN
There are about 30 active chemical sunscreen ingredients. Some of the most common include Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, and Homosalate. These sunscreen ingredients rates at 8, 6, and 4 out of 10 for various toxicities on the Environmental Working Group’s ingredient database, Skin Deep.
Oxybenzone, for example, is linked to skin allergies, which are triggered by sun exposure because this ingredient is phototoxic. Sunlight also causes oxybenzone to form free radicals that may relate to cell damage and premature aging.
Oxybenzone absorbs through the skin in significant amounts, according to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control), and is to be persistent in the body and 97% of Americans. It is a hormone disruptor that also found in breast milk, urine, and blood.
Similarly, Octinoxate and Homosalate show evidence of hormone disruption while being unstable when exposed to sunlight. This phototoxicity compromises their effectiveness increasing UV damage to the skin. Many of these ingredients are also penetration enhancers and are being shown to improve our skin’s absorbency of other toxic ingredients such as DEET and pesticides.
Sunscreen ingredients, such as Avobenzone, are safer options (Avobenzone rates at a two on Skin Deep), but ensure they are not combined with one of the other more toxic sunscreen ingredients. This often happens with Avobenzone because it lacks stability, and other sunscreen ingredients help with that.
Although research on chemical sunscreen ingredients is still rolling in, it’s wise to be cautious and choose safer sunscreen alternatives such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. You will find a link to my curated sunscreen page at the end of the blog.
2. HORMONE-DISRUPTING INGREDIENTS IN SUNSCREEN
What do most shampoos, body soaps, and sunscreen lotions have in common? They contain synthetic parfum or fragrance - an umbrella term for over 3000 ingredients - phthalates and plasticizers with hormone-disrupting properties. In products, these ingredients act as preservatives but also make scent linger.
Phthalates can interfere with endocrine (hormone) systems at certain doses and derail hormone functions. With fragrances often found in most personal care products (including sunscreen), it does add up.
No matter how small the dosage in a product, these ingredients are persistent in our bodies and contribute to our overall toxic burden. We don’t know how much fragrance is in a product, but you can see how high up the word “parfum” or “fragrance” is on your product’s ingredient list. This will help you understand how scented it is.
Phthalates in a product are hidden under the umbrella terms “parfum” or “fragrance,” and also be listed individually in the ingredient list. Avoid chemical sunscreen ingredients in your SPF product ending in the word phthalate (for example, DBP – dibutyl phthalate).
If you’re at the beach and someone is spraying their Coppertone sunscreen all over the place, cover your mouth and eyes and make sure you’re not downwind from the spray.
3. EMPTY NON-ACTIVE INGREDIENTS IN SUNSCREEN
Is it enough for a sunscreen to only prevent sunburn? You might be thinking, “What else should it do?”
Our skin needs to be protected and adequately moisturized from the sun. Chemical sunscreen ingredients are not factors in this protection. Although conventional sunscreens contain active SPF ingredients that will prevent sunburn, they offer very little in terms of skin benefits. If your skin doesn’t do well in summer temperatures, look at my advice on skincare products that your skin needs to thrive.
Most sunscreen products are full of fillers like silicones that create a film-like barrier on our skin and dry it out over time. Skincare companies use silicones because they’re cheap, easy to product, and help products spread easily on the skin. Companies that use a sunscreen with silicones can claim “sweat-proof” or “water-proof” benefits. However, you might as well be wrapping your skin in plastic wrap!
What makes the product “water-proof” is suffocating your skin! Silicones (ingredients ending in -siloxane or -methicone) are persistent in our bodies and our environment. Please, consider this before jumping into our lakes this summer!
Non-active (non-spf) ingredients make up 50 – 70% of sunscreen – a good reason to pay attention and know what they are. Ensure that your sunscreen contains a botanical blend that offers your skin soothing and moisturizing properties.
Ingredients that will protect, soothe, and nourish your skin from the sun's drying rays include:
- Shea Butter
- Aloe Vera Extract
- Red Raspberry
The top 80% of your product's ingredients should list these items.
MY ADVICE + FINAL THOUGHTS
There is no doubt that we have to protect our skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Seeking shade, wearing sunglasses, a hat, and long protective clothing should be at the top of our sun protection plan.
Additionally, a good sunscreen is a-must from spring to fall when we spend more time outdoors. A good sunscreen should protect from the sun without causing other forms of damage to our skin and overall health.
Mineral (physical) sunblocks are wonderful alternatives and have come a long way since the days of Baywatch. I’d encourage you to go this route. Ensure it has high zinc oxide (over 15%) content for broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection.
On my children, I’ve been using Green Beaver's Kids Natural Mineral Sun cream for the past two years because of its high zinc oxide content and rich ingredients that nourish the skin. For my face, I love Helena Lane’s Sun Cream because it melts into the skin without leaving a white film.
If you need something for your face with a more matte finish, Cocoon Apothecary’s Reflector SPF 30 is a wonderful choice as is LASPA's tinted matte SPF 20 which is perfect for reapplying over makeup. For those of you who want a tinted plus a wonderfully nourishing SPF facial cream, try Just Sun's Daily Defense Tinted SPF30.
We have more options today than ever before, so find a mineral sunscreen that you like and use it religiously.
Check out my curated choices for mineral facial sunscreen and take 10% off with code mineralsunscreen10 in my shop.