When looking at sunscreen ingredient labels, there are often more ingredients than we would like, with too many words we can’t pronounce. With the heavy push on wearing sunscreen not only in the summer, but also in the winter and on cloudy days year round, chances are you’ve been wondering what you’re putting on your skin, and what is it doing to your body. Is it messing with your hormones? Is it affecting your children’s development? Well, to put your wondering at ease, I’ve developed a list of the top five toxic chemicals you are most likely to find in your commercial sunscreen:
- Oxybenzone is a popularly used sunscreen chemical, however there is debate about whether it should be used at all. Some doctors swear by it, while the Environmental Working Group believes that because of its high absorption rates, it has the ability to affect our hormones. Lab tests have shown it to mimic estrogen in the body, affecting sperm production in males and leading to an increase in endometriosis cases in women. When tested for the chemical, it showed up in nearly every person they tested, including in mother’s milk. Funny how they don’t warn you about THAT on the label, huh?
- Aside from having a high skin penetration factor itself, it has also been shown to increase other chemical absorptions into the skin, acting as a free radical generator that can cause cellular damage and can increase allergic reactions to the chemical in some individuals.
Octinoxate (aka: Octylmethoxycinnamate)
- Octinoxate has less than a 1% absorption rate in humans, but despite that fact, it was still found in mother’s milk. There’s speculation that this chemical can also cause hormone alterations, finding that it may have effects on the reproductive system by decreasing the amount of estradiol and progesterone levels in women, which can cause infertility and miscarriages. A lower sperm count has been documented in males. Not only that, but the International Journal of Andrology found that the chemical also has harmful effects on the reproductive organs of both males and females while still in the womb if their mother is in contact with the chemical.
- This chemical has been shown to reduce thyroid hormones, which could have an impact on our metabolic processes. It can accelerate free radical damage, increasing skin aging, which is ironic considering people wear sunscreen to protect their skin from the pre-mature aging effects of the sun.
- Homosalate hasn’t received as much toxicity fears as the first two chemicals, but it still has its concerns. With less than a 1% skin penetration rate, it has still shown up in mothers milk. Laboratory tests have also shown it to impact hormones, especially by increasing estrogen, which has been known to allow breast cancer cells to multiply faster. In cell cultures, homosalate has shown to impact the androgen, and progesterone hormones as well.
- In animal studies, wearing this chemical was shown to increase the absorption of other chemicals, particularly pesticides, making exposure to those even more damaging to our bodies.
- This chemical is milder than the others, although it is still shown to be absorbed into the skin in small amounts. Some people have been known to have allergic reactions to it, especially when it acts as a penetration enhancer for other chemicals and pesticides. There are suspicions that it may be an environmental toxin, but as of now, not much data is known.
- Octocrylene has been detected in mothers milk and has shown evidence of mild skin absorbance like the other chemicals. The main risk with octocrylene appears to be that there are been reports of larger amounts of people having skin reactions with this chemical.
Now, how realistic are these facts? The studies that received these effects were done mostly on rats and other animals that were given relatively large doses to consume. Some may argue that there is no way humans could ever achieve that level of the chemical in our bodies simply from wearing it on our skin. In fact, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York published an independent report stating how the levels of oxybenzone used in those studies were unrealistic and that although it does have a high absorption rate in humans, it’s not enough to cause hormone disruption in our bodies. But with everything so new on the market, how are we supposed to know for sure? We are their current guinea pigs! So it’s more personal judgement until full, long-term scientific data can prove otherwise. Either way, these chemicals are showing up in breast milk and placental tissues, providing exposure to these hormone-interrupting chemicals at a critical point of an infant’s life. Do you want to chance it, or would you rather play it safe with your family?
Regardless of what sunscreen products you use, it’s important to remember that one application of sunscreen isn’t enough to protect you the whole day. Multiple applications are necessary for proper protection, with more applications necessary after swimming or intense perspiration. Don’t forget about those hard to reach places like on your nose, behind your ears, on your feet, and the back of your neck, arms, and legs. Try to wear a hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves and pants as much as possible. Practice these safe sun tactics, and your skin should be protected!
If you are truly worried about wearing these chemicals on your skin, you can always try making your own non-toxic sunscreen at home where you know all the ingredients going into it!
Health professionals often attest that the benefits of correct use of these commercial sunscreens outweighs any of the potential risks. What are your thoughts on the matter?
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