Summer is fast approaching, and with fun in the sun comes an added concern: skin protection. Slathering on sunblock may seem like a no-brainer, but many people are unaware of the toxic chemicals found in most conventional sunscreens. Being that skin cancer and other sun-related complications are hot topics of concern, consumers can use your guidance to find safer options and know what to avoid when gearing up for the season.
What’s Wrong With Conventional Sunscreens?
Ideally, the goal of sunscreen is to protect skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays, which are thought to contribute to skin cancer. However, some of the most commonly used chemicals found in sunscreens can actually pose a separate danger (1). For example, oxybenzone, a chemical compound found in about 56% of sunscreens, is thought to be an endocrine disruptor (1). The endocrine system is responsible for transporting hormonal signals throughout the brain and body. Disrupting these signals can result in mixed hormonal messages, creating cellular damage that can lead to the development of abnormal cells that could eventually turn cancerous (1). Considering that oxybenzone-based sun care products are applied directly to skin, their effects on the body are more worrisome to some consumers because they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Some shoppers may also be hesitant to buy sunscreens with retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate. When exposed to sunlight, retinyl palmitate and other related substances can generate free radicals and cause trouble for the skin (1, 2). According to data gathered by the Environmental Working Group, some of the concerns associated with this chemicals’ use in sunscreen include reproductive and developmental cell disruption, and could even lead to skin tumors (1). Nighttime application of creams with retinyl palmitate is not said to be dangerous, and can be beneficial to the skin. Some also support their use during the day, provided it is not one of the top ingredients in the product.
One troublesome finding related to the use of conventional sunscreens is a possible link to fertility problems. According to a Danish study conducted by the Endocrine Society, 95% of the collected blood and urine samples contained UV-filtering chemicals. In addition, 29 out of the 31 allowed cosmetic chemicals used in both the United States and Europe were tested on live, healthy sperm cells in an environment that mimicked female fallopian tubes. These chemicals, even in doses lower than that of sunscreens, were found to interfere with the normal functions of the sperm cells, resulting in chemical imitation of the female hormone progesterone (3). The presence of this hormonal disruption in males is believed to contribute to the rapidly inexplicable rise of infertility observed in various parts of the world where these chemicals are rampant in products like sunscreen (3).
Conventional Sunscreen Alternatives
Shoppers feeling concerned? There’s hope! Natural alternatives are available and are just as effective when used correctly.
• Zinc oxide is a powerful mineral that is the main ingredient in sunscreens for good reason. With an SPF range of 25–35, it possesses powerful protective qualities against harmful UV exposure with next to no substantial research showing adverse effects on health (4, 5).
• Titanium dioxide acts as a co-star to zinc oxide in its potential to protect against sun rays. Similar to zinc oxide in its protective qualities, it performs as a perfect complement to zinc oxide and other elements in natural sun care with an SPF range similar to zinc oxide, but less stable on its own (5).
• Other oils that, when paired with zinc oxide, offer a broader approach to natural sun protection include coconut oil (SPF 4-10), avocado oil (SPF 4), shea butter (SPF 6-10), raspberry seed oil (SPF 30-50), jojoba oil (SPF 4), macadamia oil (SPF 6) and wheat germ oil (SPF 20) (2). It is important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not signed off on these oils being used by themselves as a complete approach to protection against the sun or to the labeling of these SPFs on products (5).
One concern associated with natural sun care products revolves around the controversial presence of nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are so small that if absorbed, some shoppers fear they could wreak havoc in the body (4, 5). Though no studies have found quantifiable danger associated with nanoparticles, the fear of nanoparticles in zinc oxide engineered to avoid white residue may have roots in a misunderstanding of skin absorption capacity. Studies have shown that nanoparticle sizes of 30 nm or greater pose no risk to human health, but some shoppers want to avoid them anyway (4, 5). Some sun care products on the market may contain nanoparticles smaller than 30 nm, so check with individual manufacturers if you have questions (4, 5). With that being said, the biggest threat known regarding these particles, is the inhalation of them in the form of sprays and powders (4, 5). WF
1. Mercola, “Using Sunscreens Can Make You a Magnet for Melanoma.” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/06/04/astaxanthin-as-sunscreen.aspx, accessed April 11, 2016.
2. Wright, C., “Bring on the sun - Discover safe and natural skin protective solutions this summer.” http://www.naturalnews.com/041091_sun_screen_sunburn_prevention_vitamin_A.html#, accessed April 11, 2016.
3. The Endocrine Society, "Some sunscreen ingredients may disrupt sperm cell function." www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160401111847.htm, ScienceDaily, accessed April 11, 2016.
4. Badger, “Zinc Oxide Sunscreen & Nanoparticles,”http://www.badgerbalm.com/s-33-zinc-oxide-sunscreen-nanoparticles.aspx, accessed April 11, 2016.
5. Environmental Working Group, “Nanoparticles in Sunscreens,” http://www.ewg.org/2015sunscreen/report/nanoparticles-in-sunscreen, accessed April 11, 2016.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine June 2016