Ingredients of sunscreen
Sunscreens are products applied to the skin to protect against the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, the very ingredients in sunscreens that offer sun protection, have also been found to have adverse side effects. In a disturbing investigation of 952 name-brand sunscreens, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 4 out of 5 sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns .
How effective are sunscreens in protecting the skin against UVA and UVB rays from the sun? How harmful are their ingredients? Do sunscreens damage more than they protect? These are some of the questions consumers must consider before they use sunscreen.
Why should I be aware of them?
There is a general consensus supported in large measure by the medical fraternity, that wearing sunscreen prevents cancer, specifically skin melanomas. However, there is also a growing awareness that sunscreen ingredients like the parabens and Benzophenone may function like human estrogens and actually disrupt the normal hormonal functioning of the body.
It is therefore, important for us to know exactly what we are putting on our skins, and learning to read the sunscreen labels to make the best choices for ourselves and our families.
All about sunscreen ingredients
A good broad-spectrum sunscreen should contain avobenzone, ecamsule (Mexoryl), titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide for significant UVA protection .
The ingredients that hurt
- Benzophenone is easily absorbed by the skin.
- This chemical is present in most sunscreens. It tends to cause skin irritations and allergies.
- Benzophenone- 3 behaves like the hormone oestrogen and increases the numbers of oestrogen sensitive breast cancer cells. It also has the potential to disrupt the hormonal balance of users.
- Other products that harm include
- Homosalate and octyl-methoxycinnamate (also called octinoxate): this also acts like oestrogen in test tubes
- Padimate-O is a derivative of PABA. PABA was earlier widespread in sunsreens but caused irritations and was discontinued. Padimate-O is said to cause damage to the DNA which could cause cancer.
- Titanium dioxide application also indicates DNA damage. These last two are as yet only lab and not human and living animal experiments
- Diethanolamine (DEA) and associated compounds like triethanolamine or TEA may lead to cancer causing compounds if the sunscreen contains nitrites. The FDA agrees that this is possible and is attempting to examine this. They do not as yet acknowledge risk to users.
- Parabens including butyl-, ethyl-, methyl-, and propyl-paraben are used as preservatives in almost all sunscreens. They, like benzophenone act like oestrogen and therefore carry similar risk. Not using them means cutting out all sunscreen use.
- Synthetic fragrances could cause allergies or asthma.
Many natural substances also function as suncreens --
- A plant-derived compound that shows promise as a sunscreen is nobiletin, a flavonoid extracted from Citrus depressa or flat orange, a small citrus fruit native to Taiwan and Okinawa. Topical application of nobiletin has been shown to be effective in preventing the swelling and reddening of the skin associated with overexposure to sunlight 
- Shea Butter
- Green Tea
- One may also eat for sun protection -- natural anti-oxidants from fresh berries, green tea, spirulina and as many other foods act as natural barriers to the harmful effects of the sun.
Sunscreen ingredients and environment
- Titanium dioxide production is a chlorine based process that results in environmental damage and endangers humans and wildlife.
- Zinc mining causes enormous damage to the environment. The Red Red Dog mine in Alaska, is instrumental in polluting enormous areas with toxic heavy metals like cadmium, lead and zinc. Acid is used as part of the process to separate the metal from the ore. This has permanently polluted the area and the aquifer.
What can I do about it?
- Use sun block rather than sunscreen. Sunblock lies on top of the skin rather than getting absorbed by it.
- Do not used micronised titanium products. Smaller particles of titanium tend to enter the skin and cause damage. Stick with the un-micronised stuff.
- Use broad spectrum sunblocks.
- Eat for sun protection: load up on natural anti-oxidants in your diet. Include fresh berries, green tea, spirulina and as many other natural anti-oxidants as you can.
- Cover up in the sun: the clothing, hats and glasses with afford lots of protection.
- Use natural sunscreens like shea butter.
- Use natural anti tanners like real lemon juice.
- Sunscreens should not be used on infants under 6 months of age because of the risk of side effects.
- Sunscreens act as a barrier to solar ultraviolet radiation
- They are said to reduce the chances of developing sunburn and the risk of skin cancer.
- Ingredients that exclude UVA rays include oxybenzone, avobenzone or Parsol 1789
- Ingredients that exclude UVB rays include cinnamates and salicylates
- Ingredients like zinc oxide which is a natural material, deflects light and this and titanium dioxide are both used in highly effective sunscreens.
- Some sunscreen products also purport to contain antioxidant products that are said to prevent and halt skin damage.
Share your thoughts here
- Sunscreen and Sun Block Ingredients
- Holistic Skin Therapy
- Pub Med Article on Sunscreen