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Concerns about Sunscreens and What to Do About Them

Sunblock is great. In fact, you should never step out of the house without slathering sunblock. If you are spending your day indoors and are near a window, it is highly recommended to put on some sunblock as windows do not block harmful rays, despite what random articles on the internet might say.

However, there have been tons of reports lately that talk about how sunscreens with chemical ingredients, such as oxybenzone and avobenzone, which protect the skin from harmful UV rays, can actually be the leading cause of sunburns and, worse, skin cancer.

Experts believe that the chemicals in these sunscreens can be absorbed through the skin, becoming the leading cause of skin irritation and hormonal disruption. In May 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that these chemicals are absorbed into the skin at higher levels than previously known. Moreover, they found that oxybenzone puts developing fetuses at risk in pregnant women.

What Research Says

Did you know that there are approximately 5 million skin cancer cases detected each year? UV exposure is to blame for almost 90% of these cases. Hence, it is only natural for most people to continue using their sunscreen without actually knowing the ingredients or reading the label on products.

Dermatologists recommend the use of sunscreen all year round. In fact, it should be reapplied every few hours after long exposure to the sun, or if you’ve gone swimming. However, this means that the ingredients used in sunscreens need to be safe; otherwise, we might be causing more harm than good to our bodies.

Today, the chemical sunscreen industry has to report their ingredients to the FDA to ensure that no harmful chemicals are being used. These include oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, ostisalata, and ostocrylene. However, the FDA is working tirelessly to find more data on these chemicals. While the toxicity of some of these chemicals has been researched and proven, other chemicals need to be studied more deeply to understand the exact risks that they have on the human body and environment.

Oxybenzone- The Most Dangerous of All?

Out of the 12 ingredients that are on the FDA’s research list, oxybenzone is known to be the worst. It is an ingredient commonly used in sunscreens because of its ability to protect against ultraviolet rays- the main culprit behind sunburn (UVB) and skin cancer (UVA).

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows that oxybenzone can get absorbed through the skin. In fact, researchers have found high levels of it in breast milk and human blood. As tested on animals, oxybenzone has the strength to disrupt the functioning of numerous hormones in the human body, including estrogen.

According to a study conducted in 2001 by the University of Zurich in Switzerland, rats who ate food ingested with oxybenzone were found to have an increase of 23 percent in the size of their uterine. Even though ingesting sunscreen is different than slathering it on, a paper published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology found that pregnant women using a chemical sunscreen containing oxybenzone every single day could absorb enough of the chemical that would result in a birth defect known as Hirschsprung’s disease.

Children with Hirschsprung’s disease have some missing nerves in the lower colon or rectum. This results in an abnormal movement of stool through the bowel. Even though the study does not directly prove that oxybenzone exposure is the underlying cause of the disease, it does affect the validity of the chemical.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised parents against using sunscreens with oxybenzone on children. According to studies conducted on animals, oxybenzone can imitate the workings of hormones that occur naturally in the human body. This is referred to as endocrine disruption. All the research conducted has increased concern and doubt, especially about the effects of oxybenzone on fetuses, infants, and children. This is mainly because their endocrine systems and organs are more at risk to the effects of harmful ingredients because they are rapidly developing and growing.

There are some laws in the world that ban the use and sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone. Research also links oxybenzone back to environmental damage as it affects coral reefs and marine life. Surprisingly, up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen containing oxybenzone poison and damage coral reefs each year.

Are Mineral Products the Next Best Alternative?

According to the research conducted by the FDA, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, ingredients usually used in mineral sunscreens, do not present the same risks as oxybenzone. This is because they do not get absorbed into the skin and instead sit neatly on the surface. Even though the AAD urges customers to switch to mineral sunscreens and avoid the use of chemical ones, mineral sunscreens are not completely as effective as their counterparts. This is because they deflect UV rays instead of absorbing them.

Another sunscreen ingredient that is gaining increasing popularity is shinorine, an eco-friendly ingredient that was discovered by researchers at the University of Florida. Harvested from red algae, this is a great ingredient if you are looking for biodegradable options. However, it is not the most reliable as supplies of red algae vary each year. That is why scientists are working on producing shinorine in the laboratory, instead of the wild. Genetically modified bacteria are used to ensure a steady supply of the ingredient. Even though research shows promising results for eco-friendly sunblock’s containing shinorine, it might be a while till production reaches the commercial market.

How You Can Contribute

While the world waits on environmentally- friendly sunscreens to be developed, you can play your part by causing minimal damage to your surroundings. To do this, simply swear off sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. Instead, choose bio-degradable sunscreens that are eco-friendly and do not accumulate in the environment. Zinc oxide and titanium are ingredients that are considered safe and biodegradable as well.

Make sure that you do not step out of the house without sunscreen, and always opt for a broad-spectrum one with at least SPF 30 so that your skin is safe from harmful UV rays. Moreover, avoid exposing babies under six months to sunscreen, and of course, the sun. Use protective clothing and hats to ensure an effective barrier against harmful UV radiation. And remember, always check the ingredient list for products you apply on your skin!