Why do we need sunscreen?
Prolonged sun exposure causes a multitude of issues that aren't just cosmetic, but can also impact our health. It causes the skin to become more sensitive, reactive, acne prone, dry, thick (leathery) and wrinkled. Skin cancers, and suppressed immune responses have also been linked to molecular changes attributed to sun exposure. This all happens as a result of processes triggered by UVA, UVB and UVC rays. Let's break it all down...
UVA: These are the aging rays that penetrate the deepest into the skin causing issues such as melanoma, and breakdown of structural elements such as Collagen and Elastin, speeding up skin aging. There is only one type of sunscreen that is effective against UVA and that is mineral sunscreen containing Zinc Oxide and/or Titanium Dioxide.
UVB: The burning rays, even more damaging than UVA. It has been known that even one bad sunburn can trigger a carcinogen DNA mutation. UVB rays can be absorbed by chemical sunscreens and blocked by mineral sunscreen.
UVC: The MOST DANGEROUS of all UV rays. They are naturally filtered by the ozone layer. Sunscreens are ineffective against them, and that is why we don't hear too much about them from cosmetic brands. Considering that the ozone layer is now significantly thinner, with gaps above major metropolitan areas, due to pollution, it is crucial to limit sun exposure. When in the sun, it is advised to wear hats, sun glasses, and loose clothing to help protect your skin.
What is a Chemical Sunscreen?
This it the most commonly used and preferred by consumers due to the abundance of options and pleasant scents and textures. This is usually in products marketed as sheer, light, easy to blend, etc. It uses synthetic compounds you may recognize as Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Homosalate and Octinoxate which absorb sun light and transform UV rays into non-damaging forms of energy. Here is why we aren't fans:
Chemical sunscreen is unstable and breaks down overtime, therefore requiring penetration enhancers, preservatives, and various other chemicals to protect the formula. They also require more frequent application, which means higher toxic load on the body, increasing susceptibility to photo-allergies and contact dermatitis, with long term use.
Chemicals in this type of sunscreen have been found in breast milk and urine after just one use, and detected in blood several weeks after application.
They can be inhaled (sprays) or ingested (lip balms) possibly causing lung and organ damage.
Not enough studies have been conducted to determine safety, levels of sensitivity and hormonal disruption.
One of the most commonly used ingredient in these sunscreens is Oxybenzone. An FDA study found its levels 438 times above cutoff for systemic exposure (according to EWG.org). Oxybenzone has been found to cause skin allergies and disrupt hormonal balance. According to CDC-collected exposure data, adolescent boys with high Oxybenzone measurements showed low testosterone levels.
Avobenzone, also commonly used in Chemical Sunscreens. This compound breaks down easily under the sun, which warrants the use of stabilizers in the formula, increasing the toxic load on the skin and body. It has also been found to be quite high on the rate of skin allergy.
Study results continue to be mixed on chemical sunscreens but many have shown side effects such as lower sperm count, sperm abnormalities and alterations to the reproductive thyroid hormones in animal studies on mice exposed to Oxybenzone and Octinoxate.
At the Beauty Doctrine we are ruled by common sense, and while many cosmetic companies hide behind the fact that not enough studies have been done on humans to definitively prove the dangerous side effects of chemical sunscreens, continuing to promote potentially harmful products detrimental to human health, we feel that waiting for all the confirmations is a dangerous strategy. We choose to err on the side of safety, and strongly caution against any products containing Oxybenzone, Avobenzone or Octinoxate.
You may want to pause for a moment and consider the main reason you want to use a sunscreen. If that reason is preventing skin cancer, then please think about all the other chemicals, found in sunscreens, that have been linked to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, liver cancer, etc... Not to sound alarming, but you don't want to substitute one cancer for another. Please refer to this article for more information on harmful cosmetic ingredients that have been linked to cancer and other serious health problems.
What's a Mineral Sunscreen?
This refers to products containing Zinc Oxide and/or Titanium Dioxide. They are very stable ingredients that aren't absorbed by the skin, therefore deemed safer and less likely to cause allergic reactions. They work by absorbing sun rays as well as forming a shield deflecting UV rays away from the skin. Few if any particles have been shown to penetrate the skin. You may find Zinc in many products advertised for sensitive skin and diaper rash creams. It provides healing and protective properties. The level of protection depends on the percentages of zinc in the formula, which can go up to 25%. Bare in mind that the higher the percentage, the whiter and thicker the cream will be. We spent a great deal of time testing formulas and reading reviews on zinc-based sunscreens. Most negative reviews have to do with texture, difficulty blending, and a white cast. This is where personal choice comes in. You would have to make a decision on wether you want to sacrifice health for beauty & ease, or the reverse!
How to select a 'clean' sunscreen?
Now that we've narrowed down ingredients to try and avoid, as well as identified better options for sunscreen, let's delve a bit deeper and offer a few options to help guide your choices. In making the below recommendations, we looked at full ingredient lists, not just actives. We also considered textures and user reviews across multiple platforms. But first, a few additional helpful notes:
Prior to applying sunscreen, make sure your skin is well-hydrated. Hydrated skin can tolerate the sun better and may sustain less damage.
Opt for skincare products with ingredients that have natural sun protection, although low in some cases, but helpful. The more the merrier! Carrot Seed Oil is said to have an equivalent of SPF30+. Red Raspberry Seed Oil contains SPF25+. Almond Oil, Coconut Oil and Shea Butter all have sunscreen of 5. You want these ingredients to be high on the list in order to have a levels enough to provide protection. We still recommend following with mineral sunscreen to ensure a broad spectrum protection.
The higher the SPF, the better. Ensure you have at least a broad spectrum SPF 30. Reapply often, especially after swimming and perspiration.
Our ever-growing list of mineral sunscreens that we recommend:
4- Juice Beauty SPF 30 Oil Free Moisturizer: Another great formula that's Aloe Vera based, which we consider a plus for it's soothing properties and effectiveness against sunburn. It also has Jojoba, Sunflower and Castor oils, Algae, Cucumber, and Zinc at 20%, delivering great protection, but again, expect a white and fairly thick texture. Find it here: https://amzn.to/33WBPer.
5- Supergoop! Play 100% Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 Mist with Marigold Extract, 6 fl oz - Reef Safe Body Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin with Clean Ingredients like Marigold, Sunflower Seed, and Chamomile. This is an absolute favorite at the Beauty Doctrine :). Supergoop probably has the widest variety of sunscreen formulas for every taste. We spent some time on Amazon looking at the different variations. And we decided to stick with 100% mineral, available, in this line, in a spray. But now that you are equipped with the basic knowledge of what to look for, we encourage you to spend some time looking at different ingredients lists to help you identify other formulas suitable to your liking, if you aren't a fan of sprays. Go here; https://amzn.to/3gRsZCj.
6- La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50: Titanium dioxide 5% and Zinc Oxide 15%, Fragrance-free and Antioxidant-rich. We love this and so do many others that left glowing reviews on Amazon. It has an average of a 4 star rating on Amazon (198 reviewers at the time this blog was written). Go here for more information: https://amzn.to/2PMOdWk.
Be well. Be safe. Be beautiful!