Summer and sun safety go hand-in-hand in the Valley, and the sunscreen industry is growing. Protection can be picked up for just a few dollars at the drugstore, while other brands go for $145 per ounce in retail stores branded specifically around makeup and skincare. Expensive isn’t always better, especially when some offerings on the market may not be as good for you as they claim.

Chemical sunscreens came onto the scene when people were unsatisfied with the feel and appearance of mineral sunscreens left on their skin during use and remain popular to this day. The formula of chemical sunscreens allows them to be light-weight and absorb completely into the skin, makeup users find chemical sunscreens to be a more pleasant base to apply cosmetics over, and it leaves no weird cast on the skin.

But are these ‘wonder’ formulas all they’re made out to be? More education and awareness is needed to understand the risks created by opting for chemical formulas instead of mineral ones.

Chemical sunscreens compared to mineral sunscreens

 There are 17 individual ingredients that are commonly used in sunscreens. Of those, 15 are used in chemical sunscreens and two of them are used in mineral sunscreens.

 Chemical sunscreens are appealing because they are lightweight, sink into the skin and aren’t visible once they’re on. But not every ingredient will provide adequate UVA and UVB protection on its own, meaning multiple chemical ingredients have to be used to create an effective formula for use. You must apply chemical sunscreens 20 minutes before sun exposure to be effective, but can lose up to 90% of their effectiveness within the first hour according to Dr. Arthur W. Perry, MD, FACS.

More testing and evaluation of the ingredients used in chemical sunscreens is needed in order to determine safety and effectiveness. Currently, the FDA is calling for more information on the following ingredients before determining if they can be classified as being generally safe and effective:

  • Commonly used in sunscreens sold in the United States: ensulizole, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, avobenzone
  • Not commonly used in sunscreens sold in the United States but may be found in sunscreens when traveling abroad: cinoxate, dioxybenzone, meradimate, padimate O, sulisobenzone

The FDA has determined that there are two ingredients that are not generally recognized as being safe or effective. Those ingredients are PABA and tolamine salicylate, but it is important to note that neither of these ingredients are commonly used in the United States.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been the staple ingredients in mineral sunscreens since the beginning and both have been approved for use by the FDA. They are rocks that are ground into a fine powder and they sit on the skin, allowing them to physically block both UVA and UVB light. Unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreens are effective immediately upon application.

The downside to mineral sunscreens is they leave a white cast on skin during use. Zinc oxide is the lesser of the two offenders, but unfortunately people will avoid mineral sunscreens because they don’t care for how it looks on their skin. What many people don’t know is that these ingredients are considered better for sensitive skin. Advanced Image Med Spa only recommends the use of mineral sunscreens for your daily skin protection needs.

Human and environmental dangers of chemical sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens soak into the skin and avoid the cast created on the skin by mineral sunscreens, which sounds like a win-win situation until you consider what it may do to you to absorb those chemicals.

According to WebMD, a single application of sunscreen increases the level of active ingredients in sunscreen beyond the FDA’s threshold for determining if they need more study to be considered safe for use.

Because chemical sunscreens are applied to your skin and wind up being absorbed through it, they bypass being detoxified by the liver. Because they aren’t passing through the liver, these chemicals can be detected in blood, urine, and breast milk for up to two days after a single application.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate don’t just remain in your bloodstream, they are considered endocrine disruptors that effect estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and the thyroid. Disruption to these systems may eventually lead to cancerous tumors, birth defects and other developmental disorders.

The problems with chemical sunscreens don’t end with what it does to our bodies, scientists believe it is also causing damage to coral reefs. Often mistaken as rocks, corals and coral reefs are actually alive and considered animals.

When chemical sunscreen enters sea water, either through being washed off during swimming or from going down the drain when we shower, coral absorbs the chemicals that wind up in the surrounding water.

Currently, there are no requirements for ‘reef-safe’ label on packaging, so it’s important to read ingredients if you aren’t sure. Only non-nanomaterial zinc oxide or non-nanomaterial titanium dioxide are considered safe.

But the tide is changing as we learn more about chemical sunscreens. In 2018, Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens that include oxybenzone or octinoxate in the first steps to protect coral reefs.

At Advanced Image Med Spa, we pride ourselves on providing guidance for our clients to help them meet their skincare goals. Because of this, we recommend the use of mineral sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher. We have done a lot of research to make sure that the sunscreens we sell are effective and safe for you and the environment. We want to remind our spa family that expensive is not always better. Check consumer reports best sunscreens list for full body products to help you save money and buy the safest products. We encourage you to read labels carefully to understand what you are using on your skin and find your perfect fit at a reasonable price.

If you are concerned about your sun damage or premature aging, contact us to set up a consultation.