What’s really in your sunscreen?
Most people have now got the message that the sun can damage the skin and cause premature ageing, and that’s why the sales of sunscreen have never been higher than they are today. Despite the increased awareness of the dangers of the sun, and the widespread use of sunscreen, though, the rate of malignant skin cancer is still rising in most populations. So what’s really going on? Recent research has suggested that the cocktail of chemicals contained in some sunscreens could be carcinogenic and that they could cause severe allergic reactions in a lot of people. They could also be responsible for disrupting the hormonal balance in the body. Research in this area is still ongoing and it is more dangerous not to use any sunscreen at all, so no one is suggesting that we should all go out in the sun unprotected, but here are the facts about sunscreen that everyone should be aware of.
1. There are two main categories of sunscreen
There are two main types of sunscreen. There are the physical blocks, which contain zinc and titanium, and sit on the top of the skin and reflect the sun’s rays, and there are the chemical sunscreens, which are absorbed into the skin and bind with the cells in the body.
2. The physical sun blocks are the safest
The chemical sunscreens have become the most popular, because they do no leave a film over the top of the skin, but, because they are absorbed into the skin and bind with the cells, the effects of the chemicals on the body are still not 100% understood. Physical sunblock contains inert materials like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, so if you are concerned about what is in your sunscreen, these are definitely the safest ones.
3. A little bit of sun on your skin is good for you
Before we get into what is actually in sunscreen, let’s get things into perspective. It is overexposure to sunlight that causes the damage, but a little bit of sun is actually good for you. Sunlight produces Vitamin D in your body and it also stops you developing Seasonal Affective Disorder. You should also bear in mind that there are brands of sunscreen that are safer than others. The safest types of sunscreens to buy are those that are labelled as being ‘broad spectrum’, and check for those that have been listed in The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Sunscreen Guide.
The first on our list of potentially harmful chemicals that can be found in some sunscreens is Oxybenzone. This is used in chemical sunscreens to help the other ingredients get absorbed into the skin. It has been known to cause allergic reactions and it also disrupts the hormonal balance in the body. The worrying thing about Oxybenzone is that, we absorb it faster than our bodies can get rid of it, so it accumulates in our bodies over time, especially if you use it regularly.
5. Retinyl Palmitate
Retinyl Palmitate is a form of Vitamin A that is added to sunscreens to help to fight the ageing effects of sunlight. When exposed to the rays of the sun, though, Retinyl Palmitate breaks down and produces free radicals that can lead to cancer. Studies have indicated that Retinyl Palmitate can actually speed up the development of skin cancer. So be careful!
Octinoxate is a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, but there are some concerns about this ingredient too. Although allergic reactions to this chemical are rare, it can disrupt the balance of oestrogen in the body. The chemical has also been linked to the production of free radicals, which can cause the very things that we are trying to avoid – premature ageing.
7. Nano titanium particles
One of the downsides to using physical sun blocks is that they can leave a white film on the skin, so manufacturers have started to use nano titanium particles. These very small particles don’t leave a visible film on the surface of the skin, but they do get absorbed, and they can cause serious inflammation. Of the mineral based sunscreens, those that contain zinc oxide are considered to be the safest.
Parabaens, which are used in sunscreens as preservatives, have been linked with chronic side effects and can cause allergic reactions in some people. Although parabens are widely used in cosmetics and they are generally considered to be safe, there have been studies that have linked parabens to breast cancer.
Homosalate is a UV absorbing chemical that penetrates the skin. This is another one of the sunscreen chemicals that can accumulate in the body and, when it reaches high enough quantities, it becomes toxic.
Octocrylene is another of the chemicals in sunscreen that, when exposed to sunlight, actually creates free-radicals that can damage the skin. It too is readily absorbed by the body and accumulates over time.