It’s Summer time in our neck of the woods, and that means surf, sand, and glorious sunshine, right?! Well, not if you, or your little one, suffer from an itchy skin condition. This time of year can be a nightmare trying to protect your skin from the damaging UV rays, and not creating a flare up from all the toxic chemicals that are in most sunblocks and sunscreens.
Like many creams we apply to our skin, we have to be very careful of what ‘nasty and toxic’ ingredients are lurking in our sunscreen. This is especially important knowing that up to 35% of sunscreen ingredients applied to your skin can enter your bloodstream. So it’s time to get the lowdown on all things sunscreen so you can make some wise choices this summer.
Why you need to say NO to conventional sunscreens
In 2014, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) created a safe guide for sunscreens. They reviewed over 2000 sunscreens and over 257 brands. They found more than 75% of the sunscreens contained toxic chemicals that can increase your risk of cancer and other health issues.
Here’s what their research had to say: “Our review…shows that some sunscreen ingredients absorb into the blood, and some have toxic effects. Some release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight, some act like estrogen and disrupt hormones, and several can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. The FDA has not established rigorous safety standards for sunscreen ingredients.” Sunscreens haven’t been regulated since 1978 in the USA, and the SPF factor only tells you how effective a sunscreen is against UVB rays, which cause sunburn.
In Australia and New Zealand, whilst our governments have done a fantastic job actively promoting mainstream awareness of skin cancer, and the importance of sunscreen in the last 25 years. Unfortunately, there has been limited studies done looking at the overall effectiveness of many commercial sunscreen brands, and no restrictions on the ingredients. Which simply means, that Kiwi’s and Aussie’s, more than any other country on the planet, are smothering themselves with an endless list of toxic ingredients with zero awareness of their impact on our skin and bodies.
Here’s what the EWG review of toxic ingredients in your Sunscreen really means?
- Toxins can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream
- Release free radicals in sunlight
- Act like estrogen
- Disrupt hormones
- Cause allergic reactions
- Cause skin irritation
- Have no rigorous safety standards
Toxic chemicals in sunscreen
Here is a list of the most toxic ingredients and why you don’t want to put them on your skin, let alone your little ones…
- Para amino benzoic acid
- Octyl salicyclate
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Octinoxate (Octy-Methoxycinnamate)
** We have a full glossary of these ingredients at the end of this blog for you to read. **
But, let’s break down just a few critical ones for you…
Oxybenzone is the most common ingredient found in sunscreens. Scientists recommend not using sunscreens containing oxybenzone on children because of this hormone disruption.
But, finding this one ingredient often requires some detective work, as it’s a sneaky devil and can be hidden under any of following alias’s.
- BENZOPHENONE-3, (2-HYDROXY-4-METHOXYPHENYL)
- PHENYL- METHANONE; (2-HYDROXY-4-METHOXYPHENYL)
- PHENYLMETHANONE; 2-BENZOYL-5-METHOXYPHENOL; 2
- HYDROXY-4-METHOXYBENZOPHENONE; 4-08-00-02442 (BEILSTEIN HANDBOOK REFERENCE) ;
- ADVASTAB 45; AI3-23644; ANUVEX; B3; BENZOPHENONE, 2-HYDROXY-4-METHOXY-.
Now, if that lengthy alias wrap sheet wasn’t enough to get your attention, then maybe this will.
The tricky business of Benzophenones
It’s part of the Benzophenones family that were declared the Contact Allergen of the Year for 2014 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS). So, if you have itchy, sensitive skin, products containing benzophenone or benzophenone derivatives may cause redness, swelling, itching and fluid-filled blisters. Here’s what the Dermnet New Zealand have to say about these irritants and their impact on the skin.
Oxybenzone, Dioxybenzone, all part of the Benzophenones family are widely used in many everyday sunscreens, mainly because of its ability to penetrate the skin more easily, and absorb UVB and short UVA rays. Its chemical nature makes it a great ingredient for maintaining the qualities of other ingredients in a formulation and therefore you will find it used in many personal care products to maintain stability of its surrounding chemicals.
But the big bad news is that many top scientists believe Oxybenzone can cause cancer, in particular skin cancer. Yes, you read that right! Crazy, Yet, it is the number one ingredient found most commonly in sunscreen. Go figure?
The clear link between these ingredients and skin allergies
The independent industry watchdog the ‘Environmental Working Group’ (EWG) along with many leading toxicologists believe there is a clear link between oxybenzone (and others in the benzohenones family) creating hormone disruption and skin allergies. Others go further stating that oxybenzone potentially causes cell damage as a photo-carcinogen and that this cell damage may lead to skin cancer.
The ‘Center for Disease Control and Prevention’ in the USA concluded a study in 2008, where 96.8% of urine samples of sunscreen users that had been collected and examined were shown to contain oxybenzone. Basically this means that if you have used sunscreen with this ingredient, or the many other names it goes by that your body will store it in fatty tissues for long periods before you finally pass it in your urine. Not cool!
Yet even with a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting the harmful effects of this ingredient, both the American Academy of Dermatology and the FDA say Oxybenzone is safe for use in concentrations of 6% or less in over the counter sunscreens. The EU Cosmetic Directive, which allows 10%, and this ingredient, is also deemed safe in New Zealand and Australia – Really? Sweden, however, has completely banned the use of this ingredient. I’m with the Swedes; it’s not something I want to put on my family’s face.
The one ingredient named the allergen of the year
Methylisothiazolinone or MI is of particular concern for causing an increasing number of cases of allergic contact dermatitis. It is a preservative used since early 2000’s that’s lurking in your sunscreen (disposable baby wipes, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, moisturisers, and deodorants).
The American Contact Dermatitis Society named MI its “allergen of the year” in 2013. This year, Environmental Working Group has found MI listed on the labels of 66 sunscreens and 39 SPF-rated daily moisturizers. MI is used alone or in mixtures with a related chemical preservative called Methylchloroisothiazolinone, or MCI.
That fact that MI has become relatively common in sunscreen is a matter of concern because sunscreen users are likely to be exposed to significant concentrations of this chemical. The products that contain MI are intended to be applied to large portions of the body and to be reapplied often.
In March 2015, the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety concluded that no concentration of MI could be considered safe in leave-on cosmetic products (EU SCCS 2014). Enough said!
Keep in mind there are more ingredients that are in sunscreens and sunblocks, these are just a start! We’ve made a list of them at the end of this article if you’re interested to know more about them.
What can you do? Read the labels & banish toxic Sunscreens for good
Firstly, there are two basic types of sunscreens you need to consider:
- non-mineral – ones which absorb and deflect (or reflect) the sun’s rays via a chemical reaction
- mineral – one’s that block harmful sun rays— using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which create a physical barrier against the sun’s rays.
And there are some sunscreens, which are a combination of both non-mineral and mineral.
Non-mineral sunscreens penetrate the skin, are potentially disruptive to hormones, are allergenic, can release free radicals when they break down. Oxybenzone is the most common ingredient found in these sunscreens,, However, remember to look for the other ingredients in your sunscreen and beauty products, using our detailed glossary below.
Mineral sunscreens are ones containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The classic white strips we associate with our lifesavers and cricketers in our part of the world. These are the only physical sunscreens that actually do not breakdown in sunlight, are not usually absorbed (so do not disrupt the body’s hormones). In addition, they are not allergenic and are more effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays of the sun.
These sunscreens are a good choice for children and according to EWG have the best safety profiles.
However, be mindful, that the market has been flooded in recent years with a lot of nano-zinc oxide sunscreens. We are only now just understanding that these nanomaterials can enter your bloodstream, plus like micro beads, they are harming our marine life and entering the food chain.
The Therapeutic Goods Association of Australia (TGA) has this policy on nanoparticle ingredients. “The labeling of therapeutic sunscreens is not required to declare the particle sizes of ingredients. Nanoparticulate titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are commonly used in sunscreens. The labels of therapeutic sunscreens are not required to declare the particle sizes of ingredients” (see note 6).
Picture: The Cathedral Cove, The Coromandel, New Zealand @iamtheflyingkiwi
Above all, look at your ingredients list and ditch anything with nano-zinc in it, and mirco beads (shower gels, toothpaste, facial scrubs) while you’re at it. As a result, you are helping save yourself and our beautiful oceans and sea life.
Top tips for summer time protection
Here are the tips we use to protect ourselves and our little one’s naturally from the sun:
- We all know this one but look for a shady spot as often as you can, particularly on the beach. (Maybe even carry an umbrella with you.)
- Wear loose fitting long-sleeved natural clothes like cotton or bamboo, which will allow the skin to breathe and not irritate the skin.
- Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of foods with high antioxidants content to help protect your skin this summer.
- Use a natural PABA free sunscreen. Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient when choosing a sunscreen. Our friends over at Nourished Life have put together a selection of the best natural, organic sunscreens on the market. Which will help you decide what type of sun protection will best suit your family.
- If your child has sensitive skin, use a sunscreen that is PABA-free, fragrance free, and hypoallergenic. A physical sunscreen, with either Zinc Oxide and/or Titanium Dioxide, is a good choice, instead of a sunscreen with chemical ingredients.
- If you do get sunburnt, use a good after sun cream. Our Body Lotion and Hand Cream is also a good options for after the sun.
Moral of the Story?
There is legitimate concern regarding sunscreens causing irritation for children & adults who suffer from itchy, sensitive skin. Avoid the ingredients listed in this article, and read our detailed glossary (below) of all the toxic ingredients to avoid. It’s not worth the risk, the sun is harmful enough, the last thing you need is nasty toxins playing havoc with your skin and body.
Most importantly, ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ and enjoy Summer. :-)
** And a little update from us at Manuka Biotic HQ – we are busy working on a toxic free sunscreen made using natural ingredients. It is a tough job trying to make a decent sunscreen that works and meets our standards. But we will keep at it. **