SPF – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

All SPF is good, right? Well, it depends. Are you concerned about the chemicals in your sunscreen product passing through to your breast milk? Would it concern you to know if they turn up in your blood, or urine? Are you attempting to prevent skin cancer? As a consumer, you need a little bit of information before you buy.

The chemicals that provide SPF in daily products such as lotions, and makeup are not created equal. The sunscreen chemicals do not all behave the same way – I didn’t realize this, did you?

Here are some basics… There are two types of sunscreen: Physical, and Chemical. Let me explain what that means.

Physical Sunscreen: These sunscreen elements protect your skin by reflecting and scattering the UV rays. These include Zinc Oxide, and Titanium Dioxide. These work by acting like a shield for your skin, and do not absorb into your body.

Chemical Sunscreen: These sunscreen elements work by absorbing the suns rays. They also absorb into your skin instead of sitting on your skin’s surface. Chemical sunscreens include; Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Avobenzone. There are more that are approved by the FDA, though they are rarely used.

With the chemical sunscreens, believe it or not, many of them are not photostable. That means, they break down in sunlight. For example Avobenzone will lose most of it’s effectiveness within one hour of sunlight exposure, unless it’s paired with another chemical blocker (which, it usually is, that’s why you’ll see a handful of sunscreen blockers listed together on an ingredient list). However, this is where it gets extremely tricky, complicated, and concerning…

Eucerin Daily ProtectionLet’s look at a specific product example. Eucerin Daily Protection, SPF 30 Moisturizing Face Lotion (Link). The Active Ingredients provide the SPF, and here they are: Ensulizole 2.0%, Octinoxate 7.5%, Octisalate 4.5%, Titanium Dioxide 2.38%, Zinc Oxide 4.85%

The first ingredient, Ensulizole (Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid or PBSA), causes the formation of free radicals, and may cause cancer – and, can be detected in human breast milk and urine. You can read more about this here.

The second ingredient, Octinoxate has been shown to have hormone-mimicking effects when tested on laboratory animals (it’s an endocrine disruptor), and this too has been found in mother’s milk samples. You can read more about this here and here.

Moving on… we now see Octisalate. In order to research Octisalate accurately, it would be best to do research under ALL of it’s known names since scientific studies may reference it by one name and not another. This site lists it’s known synonyms.

The last two active ingredients in this Eucerin product are Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, which are physical blockers. Zinc Oxide as a physical blocker is  photostable so it’s properties are not altered when exposed to sunlight. Keep in mind, there are many sunscreen products that ONLY contain physical blockers without including chemical ones, and those may be better choices. And though I selected this one particular product to use as an example, these ingredients are found in hundreds of personal care products. Yes, even those “trustworthy” companies use them, such as Eucerin, Aveeno, and Neutrogena. However, as a consumer, you have choices.

One more thing. When it comes to Zinc Oxide other things to keep in mind are nano vs. non-nano. Confused yet? The term non-nano is not FDA regulated, so it is important to keep that in mind. Badger Balm does a great job of explaining the non-nano issue on their website here.

To wrap up, not all sunscreens are created equal. This post was created with family and friends in mind, and is not intended to be an all-inclusive thesis. I am just another person who wants to be an informed consumer and make the safest choices for my health and my family. You are encouraged to question what you read, where you read it, and research ingredients that you apply to your body as you see fit. If these things do not concern you, by all means, carry on! Unless you scuba dive. If you scuba dive, please be aware that the chemicals you place on your body are being shared with the fish! You can read more about that here and here.

Links for further reading:

If you read this entire post, thank you for taking the time! Be well 🙂

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