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Top Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen for Overall Health

Updated on April 1, 2015
The best sunblock is covering up, but finding a safe sunscreen is necessary for when you can't stay out of the sun.
The best sunblock is covering up, but finding a safe sunscreen is necessary for when you can't stay out of the sun. | Source

Sun Screen

First and foremost, the recommended first line of defense against UV radiation is the use of clothing, hats and shade. Sunscreen should be the second line of defense in sun protection. You may think that sunscreen is protecting you from the sun's damaging UV rays, but some ingredients in sunblock are toxic and can actually increase your risk for skin damage and skin cancer. Some ingredients absorb into the skin and can break down into other chemicals when exposed to sunlight. Environmental Working Group (EWG) does research to provide an updated database each year of sunscreens available on the market. Their information tells us which ingredients are tested, which are untested, what products are effective and their overall safety rating. We can use this information to make choices to avoid certain ingredients and choose more healthy, safe sunscreen.

Copyright © 2015 Melis Ann

Chemical Sunscreen vs Mineral Sunscreen

Before we can get into what ingredients to avoid, it's useful to understand how sunscreen works. Topical sunscreen applied to skin can be categorized into two groups: mineral and chemical.

Mineral sunscreen is usually made of zinc oxide or titanium oxide which sits on top of the skin to reflect or scatter UV rays, blocking them from reaching the skin.

Chemical sunscreens are made of multiple chemical ingredients that need time to absorb into the skin layers where a chemical reaction occurs to change UV rays into dissipated heat.

Mineral sunscreen is the safest sunscreen for health, blocking UVA and UVB rays without unhealthy chemical exposures.
Mineral sunscreen is the safest sunscreen for health, blocking UVA and UVB rays without unhealthy chemical exposures. | Source

Avoid Ingredient: Vitamin A

Vitamin A, listed as retinyl palmitate on sunscreen labels, has been listed as photocarcinogenic (creates carcinogens when exposed to sunlight) by the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) Center for Phototoxicology. Animal studies confirmed that upon exposure to sunlight, retinyl palmitate increases the rate of squamous neoplasms (cancer such as squamous cell carcinoma) and skin lesion development (cancer such as basal cell carcinoma), and decreases survival rate of the animal. Retinyl palmitate is present in about 25% of current sunscreens.

The endocrine system controls hormone levels in the body. Ingredients in sunscreen such as oxybenzone can mimic natural hormones and disrupt hormone balance.
The endocrine system controls hormone levels in the body. Ingredients in sunscreen such as oxybenzone can mimic natural hormones and disrupt hormone balance. | Source

Avoid Ingredient: Hormone Disruptors Such As Oxybenzone

Hundreds of personal care products contain oxybenzone, including sunscreen, facial moisturizers, lip balm and other SPF products. It is a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin, known to be a hormone disruptor, and linked to allergies and cell damage. CDC reported that in 2004, 97% of Americans showed contamination of oxybenzone based on urine samples they tested.

There are other ingredients in sunscreens that mimic hormones in the body, causing disruption and disease: octylmethylcinnamate, avobenzone, benzophone, mexoryl and PABA.

Disclaimer: Note that this website portrays my opinion. I want to help others consider a new or different view. Any action taken based on these opinions is the responsibility of the reader.

Copyright © 2015 Melis Ann
Original content written by Melis Ann published only on HubPages at the following web address: http://melisann.hubpages.com/hub/Top-Ingredients-to-Avoid-in-Sunscreen-for-Overall-Health

Avoid Ingredient: Nano-particles

Nanoparticles are particles that have been manipulated to become very tiny. Nanoparticles are less than 100 nanometers (nm) in diameter. Compare this to a strand of hair which measures about 80,000 nm. The safety of this technology has not been tested for personal care products. Preliminary studies show that nanoparticles are toxic to human tissue, causing oxidative stress, DNA mutation and even cell death. They can move through the skin layers more easily due to their unnaturally small size and into organ tissue. Not only present in sunscreen, nanoparticles are appearing in more and more products such as toothpaste, deodorant, and make-up. The use of nanoparticles is unregulated and no labeling laws exist.

The only way to avoid exposure to nanoparticles in sunscreen is to purchase a brand that purposely labels their product as "non-nano".

Avoid Ingredient: Fragrance

The term fragrance is listed on most personal care products, including sunscreen. A simple term that, in itself, sounds harmless. This term, however, describes the combination of hundreds of chemicals that, when put together, are considered a trade secret of that product. Even though the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has identified that some fragrance ingredients are toxic to the brain, further safety testing has not been done and transparent labeling is still not required. Fragrances are not only a source of toxicity, they can create sensitivities and allergies in people by damaging the immune system. Fragrances are known to cause and trigger asthma attacks.

Some brands label their product as "unscented" but contain fragrance masking chemicals. Check the ingredients section for evidence that the product is truly fragrance-free.

Breathing in the chemical ingredients and small particles from spray-on sunscreen is not healthy for the lungs.
Breathing in the chemical ingredients and small particles from spray-on sunscreen is not healthy for the lungs. | Source

Avoid: Spray-on Sunscreen

Spray-on aerosol sunscreen is dangerous to health on many levels. Most spray-on sunscreens contain nanoparticles of zinc or titanium oxide (to make them clear) and many hormone disrupting compounds. By spraying them in a fine mist, these chemicals can now easily access the lungs, damaging cells in the lungs and passing into the blood stream. Turning away or holding your breath is not effective. The health effects of breathing in these particles is not well understood, but suspicions point to disaster.

Ingredients in aerosol sunscreen are also flammable, making them hazardous around smokers and near the barbecue. As the propellant is still drying, the air around the skin can catch fire.

EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics database is a great resource for the safest sunscreens. Badger brand non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen is one of the products they deem as the best sunblock for baby and family.
EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics database is a great resource for the safest sunscreens. Badger brand non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen is one of the products they deem as the best sunblock for baby and family. | Source

A Note About Using Zinc Oxide

Non-nano zinc oxide does appear white when applied to skin. It is quite thick and takes a little getting used to. By following recommended sun protection measures such as seeking shade and wearing hats and protective clothing, there shouldn't be too much skin exposed to apply sunscreen. For when you need to use zinc oxide, here are some hints:

  • don't apply too thinly
  • reapply often, especially after getting wet
  • as with any sunscreen, abide by the expiration date for effectiveness


Which Sunscreen is Safe and Healthy?

After going through the list of ingredients to avoid, there won't be many sunscreens left to choose from. You're not likely to find any brands that pass the test in mainstream drug stores. If you decide to follow the advice of EWG's Skin Deep database, you'll find a list of brands that qualify as:

  • non-nano zinc oxide active ingredient
  • lotion form
  • fragrance-free

Badger brand non-nano, fragrance-free zinc oxide sunscreen is one of the products EWG lists as best sunblock for baby and family. Mineral sunscreens are the safest sunscreen for health, blocking UVA and UVB rays without unhealthy chemical exposures. Avoiding ingredients like retinyl palmitate (vitamin A), oxybenzone and other hormone disruptors, fragrance and nanoparticles is a huge step in improving overall health.

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    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      Goodness, I'm going to check out my sunscreen products after reading this. I have a sun allergy, so have been using these for many years. Guess I'm too trusting, assuming that big name brands do appropriate research. It does annoy me that even when we're told to cover up in the sun, it's difficult to buy long sleeved summery blouses. Very useful hub, will share, thanks!