Sunscreen is a skincare product manufactured to prevent skin damage. Wearing sunscreen is known to help slow down the signs of aging and boost defenses against the harmful UV rays of the sun. However, some studies show that a number of chemicals included in conventional sunscreen can be as harmful to the skin as the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. In this article, we will talk about the ingredients to watch out for when purchasing sunscreen as well as some excellent natural sunscreen options that provide holistic sun protection for the skin.
Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid
Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) discusses four potentially harmful ingredients found in over-the-counter sunscreen. These are avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule. These ingredients pose a health risk, as studies show that they are still present on the skin and in the blood even weeks after their use.
Oxybenzone is a controversial chemical compound that is primarily used as a UV filter to block the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. A study from 2017 asserted that oxybenzone places one at a higher risk of developing allergic skin reactions. Oxybenzone also causes environmental damage, producing toxic reactions for coral and fish that can result in death. Oxybenzone is also stated to react with chlorine, creating detrimental by-products that can concentrate in swimming pools. Another research discovered that oxybenzone is absorbed into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of irritation and the disruption of various biological processes.
Avobenzone is another common ingredient in commercial sunscreens that has the ability to absorb UVA rays, which have the potential to cause premature aging and skin cancer. Research has shown that this ingredient loses its efficacy within an hour of exposure to sunlight. For this reason, sunscreen manufacturers add other controversial chemicals, such as octocrylene and homosalate, to avobenzone to prolong its protective effects. The National Park Service has also raised the issue of detecting high levels of avobenzone, oxybenzone, and other chemicals at reef sites. Through sampling, the NPA has linked avobenzone and other chemicals to coral bleaching.
Octocrylene is another potentially detrimental chemical sunscreen agent that is used to help prevent skin damage. As mentioned earlier, this oil-soluble compound is commonly used to stabilize other potentially harmful UV filters, such as avobenzone. A 2019 study found that octocrylene has led to an increasing number of adults with photocontact allergy, a specific form of contact dermatitis indicated by skin inflammation from direct contact with an allergen. The National Ocean Service has stated that octocrylene and other chemicals from sunscreens have the potential to harm marine life, including growth impairment, damage to reproductive systems, and accumulation in tissues.
Like the other compounds on the list, ecamsule is used as a UV filter that absorbs the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. This active ingredient is under scrutiny mostly due to it being relatively new to the sunscreen market. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration issued that ecamsule is not generally recognized as being safe and effective. Presently, there are no documented long-term side effects for ecamsule, but it may cause short-term effects like dry skin, acne, and itching.
Other Potentially Harmful Ingredients
Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A that is used in various sunscreens due to its antioxidant properties. A study states that the compound forms free radicals when exposed to sunshine, thus elevating the risk of skin damage and the potential for skin cancer. Octinoxate is another compound that’s often integrated into over-the-counter-sunscreens for better protection against sunburn. Research shows that octinoxate has unsafe effects on animals and the environment.
Octisalate, another controversial sunscreen ingredient, helps deal with UVB rays and improves protection against sunburn. Octisalate provides a moderate allergy risk and is suspected of contributing to coral bleaching. Lastly, homosalate, a compound used to help prevent direct skin exposure to the sun, is researched to have the potential to disrupt reproductive hormones.
Why We Recommend Natural Sunscreen
Natural sunscreens, also known as mineral or physical sunscreens, are free of any chemical sun protection filters. This means you won’t have to worry about the side effects of oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, and other controversial ingredients mentioned earlier. Natural sunscreens use naturally derived minerals, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun. In 2019, the FDA labeled zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as safe filters for use in sunscreens.
The Advantages of Natural Sunscreen
The main advantage of natural sunscreens is the significantly reduced risk of chemical sunscreen filters being absorbed by the skin and entering the bloodstream. The lack of controversial chemicals like oxybenzone means that you are less likely to develop any skin irritations or allergic reactions when using natural sunscreen. The gentler ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, are beneficial, especially for individuals with sensitive and acne-prone skin. Since conventional sunscreens are found to have negative implications for the environment, you are doing your part in preventing coral bleaching and ecosystem disruption by switching to natural sunscreens.
Selecting the Right Natural Sunscreen
The ingredient label is the first detail you want to check to guarantee that a natural sunscreen is an ideal fit for you. Ensure that the product relies on mineral-based UV filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, and is free of potentially harmful ingredients, like oxybenzone and avobenzone. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which represents how well the sunscreen protects against UVB rays and sunburn, is another crucial factor to check. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is sufficient as it provides protection from approximately 97% of UVB rays.
Natural sunscreens that feature broad-spectrum protection ensure reliable UVB and UVA protection. If you have skin sensitivities, opting for natural sunscreens that are hypoallergenic or specially formulated for sensitive skin is a good idea. Lastly, reading reviews from trusted sources or getting a dermatologist’s opinion ensures that you’re purchasing an effective and long-lasting natural sunscreen.
Applying sunscreen is essential, as spending too much time under the sun leads to sunburn, premature aging, and many other issues. Chemical sunscreens are popular over-the-counter products that provide reliable protection from the sun. However, they come with a plethora of controversial ingredients, such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octocrylene, that are argued to have the potential to cause long-term health problems. Natural sunscreens are excellent alternatives that reduce the risk of the skin absorbing harmful sunscreen filters while preventing coral bleaching and other environmental issues.