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Clean Sunscreen: A Sun Worshipper’s Guide To Protecting Your Skin

by Lisa Mazzarella

If you’re a sun worshipper, like me, this is a must read. Clean sunscreen is just as important as clean skincare. For the second time in less than a year, a study of common sunscreen ingredients has established that the chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream at concentrations far greater than the Food and Drug Administration’s safety threshold.

WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS

Previous studies have indicated a possible association between some of the chemicals and health risks such as endocrine disruption and reproductive harm, but no comprehensive safety data are available. A proposed FDA rule, which was expected to be finalized last November, would have required the industry to complete additional testing of up to a dozen chemicals to make sure sunscreens are safe. However,  the proposal was shelved in March when President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act into law.

The Cares Act overhauled how over-the-counter drugs, including sunscreens, are regulated, and it retained the 1999 sunscreen rule, which says the active ingredients currently on the market are safe and effective. This finding is not accurate and in the latest 2020 study the FDA and Environmental Working Group have identified ingfredients that may harm the endocrine system, disrupt hormones or potentially cause cancer.

Thank goodness we have a choice about what kind of sunscreen to choose! EWG, advises consumers to choose sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. EWG assessed more than 700 currently available beach and sport sunscreens and found that only about a quarter of the products offer adequate protection and don’t contain concerning ingredients. The 9 most common active ingredients of those 700 were identified in EWG’s Guide to Sunscreen concluding oxybenzone was the most worrisome. Here is some information about the good the bad and the ugly when it comes to sunscreen ingredients:

Chemical

FDA 2019

Proposed Status

Skin Penetration

Hormone Disruption

Skin Allergy and Other Concerns

Oxybenzone1

Widespread use

Insufficient data to determine safety and concerns for skin absorption and hormone disruption

FDA study found blood levels 438 times above cutoff for systemic exposure; detected in nearly every American; found in mothers’ milk

Weak estrogen, moderate anti-androgen; associated with altered birth weight in human studies

Relatively high rates of skin allergy

Octinoxate
(Octyl methoxycinnamate)2

Widespread use

Insufficient data to determine safety – significant

data gaps

FDA study found blood levels 13 times above cutoff for systemic exposure; found in breast milk

Hormone-like activity; reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies

Moderate rates of skin allergy

Homosalate3

Widespread use

Insufficient data to determine safety – significant

data gaps

FDA study found blood levels 37 times above cutoff for systemic exposure; found in breast milk

Disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone

Toxic breakdown products

Octisalate4

 

Widespread use and stabilizes avobenzone

Insufficient data to determine safety – significant

data gaps

FDA study found blood levels 10 times above cutoff for systemic exposure; skin penetration in lab studies

N/A

Rarely reported skin allergy

Octocrylene5

 

Widespread use

Insufficient data to determine safety – significant

data gaps

FDA study found blood levels 14 times above cutoff for systemic exposure; found in breast milk

N/A

Relatively high rates of skin allergy

Titanium dioxide6

 

(higher in products that are powder or spray)

 

Widespread use

Generally recognized as safe and effective

No finding of skin penetration

No evidence of hormone disruption

Inhalation concerns

Zinc oxide7

 

(higher in products that are powder or spray)

 

Widespread use and excellent UVA protection

Generally recognized as safe and effective

Less than 0.01% skin penetration of zinc in human volunteers

No evidence of hormone disruption

Inhalation concerns

Avobenzone8

 

Widespread use and the best UVA protection of non-mineral filters

Insufficient data

FDA study found blood levels 9 times above cutoff for systemic exposure

No evidence of hormone disruption

Breakdown product causes relatively high rates of skin allergy; unstable in sunshine – must be mixed with stabilizers

Mexoryl SX9

 

Uncommon use but strong UVA protection

Insufficient data

Less than 0.16% skin penetration in human volunteers

No evidence of hormone disruption

Skin allergy is rare



It’s not all bad news as we have a choice in what kind of sunscreen we use and are armed with easily accessible information to make educated decisions.

When I’m finally able to travel to my favorite tropical destination or just lounging in the sun I will bring my favorite Tizo Sheerfoam Body and Face sunscreen  it is so sheen and lightweight and I love that it works for both face and body.  It does not clog my pores and stays on even during my long (sweaty) hikes! What is your favorite sunscreen?

And as always, follow your sunscreen with a clean and hydrating facial oil, like our EWG Verified Ultimate Face Oil!