Dangerous Ingredients that May Be Lurking in Your Sunscreen
Most types of sunscreen contain toxins that can easily penetrate the skin and cause inflammation, hormone imbalances, and increased toxic burden. Fortunately, there are safer options that still protect from harmful sun rays. Learn how to read your label and discover where to buy safer sunscreen.
As we head into summer, it’s important to remember the impact of the sun’s rays on our skin. Though some sun is good for us (hello, vitamin D!), too much exposure can age our skin, burn us, and leave us at a higher risk for skin cancer.
Most of us have likely experienced a bad sunburn and are determined to protect ourselves better this year. So we turn to sunscreen in an effort to keep ourselves safe. But what if our sunscreen itself is dangerous?
Most sunscreens on the market contain chemicals that quickly penetrate our skin and disrupt our hormones. Since our skin absorbs much of what we put onto it, we need to guard against slathering ourselves with toxin-laden chemicals. Sunscreen can also provide a false sense of security. Some sunscreens may actually cause more harm than good!
Sunscreen Toxins to Avoid
Before you cover yourself or your kids with sunscreen, grab your bottle and check the ingredients for these endocrine-disrupting chemicals:
Oxybenzone - This chemical is included in many sunscreens because it absorbs and filters UV rays. However, it also penetrates the skin rapidly and mimics estrogen in the body, leading to hormonal imbalances and potential infertility. (1)
Octinoxate - This is another inexpensive UV filter, making it a popular choice for many sunscreens. Unfortunately, it is also a potent endocrine disruptor, posing problems for the thyroid and reproductive systems, among others. It is also linked to cell death and difficulty clearing toxins from the body. Octinoxate also causes complete coral bleaching at low doses. In other words, snorkeling with this sunscreen during a tropical vacation contributes to a weakened, diseased state in coral reefs. (2)
Retinyl palmitate - Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A and a popular choice for sunscreen because it is believed to slow skin aging. The problem is this chemical breaks down in sunlight, creating extra free radicals and leading to skin problems, even skin cancer. Additionally, retinyl palmitate is a powerful reproductive toxicant, which is, again, easily absorbed through the skin and can lead to hormonal imbalances.
Parabens - These chemicals are included in sunscreens because they delay bacterial and fungal growth. They are, however, also linked to endocrine disruptions, possibly leading to breast cancer and other hormonal difficulties. Again, this is not something we want to be inviting into our bodies!
Fragrances - These are also commonly found in sunscreens. They are added to make the product more appealing, but they can also cause hormonal disruption and toxin build up. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, it could include any number of toxic chemicals that legally don’t have to be listed individually. (3)
As you might imagine, slathering our bodies with these chemicals throughout the summer can lead to or worsen hormonal imbalance and create a heavier toxic load for our bodies. Fortunately, we have other choices to help keep us safe from sunburn and hormone-disrupting chemicals.
The Issue with Spray Sunscreen
When it’s time to apply sunscreen, it’s easy to grab an aerosol can and spray on the sunscreen. However, this can cause lung irritation.
To make it easier to use as a spray, the sunscreen is broken down into even smaller molecules that fill the air around us as we spray the skin. We (and anyone else around us) end up breathing the chemicals in the air, giving us even more exposure to the chemicals. Now we get them through our lungs and our skin! The use of aerosols has even been linked to a higher risk of breathing problems like asthma.
So if you choose a spray sunscreen, make sure it’s a natural one, and don’t use on yourself or your kiddos if it causes any breathing irritation.
Also, realize that a spray sunscreen does still need to be rubbed in to work most effectively!
Staying Safe in the Sun
Fortunately, we have many options when choosing how to protect ourselves from the sun!
Choose a mineral-based sunscreen made with non-nano zinc oxide. Mineral-based sunscreens protect our skin by reflecting and scattering the sunrays. Make sure to pick a sunscreen that uses non-nano zinc oxide, as the regular nanoparticles of zinc are small enough to penetrate the skin and cause problems. (See below for our favorites.)
Reapply sunscreen every few hours. Sunscreen does not last all day! Make sure to re-apply frequently if you are out in the sun for long periods of time.
Cover up. We can protect our skin by wearing long sleeves, using a hat, and taking other precautions to avoid direct sunlight as needed.
Eat a healthy diet. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that our skin will be healthier and less likely to burn quickly when we eat better! Make sure to include healthy fats, antioxidants, and an abundance of vitamins and minerals.
Listen to our podcast for more tips: Sun and Sunscreen: Skin Cancer Prevention. This is a great interview with Dr. Keira Barr, a dermatologist with helpful ideas on managing sun exposure.
Protect Yourself with Safe Sunscreen
DeVita brand sunscreen offers a Solar Body Moisturizer and a Solar Protective Moisturizer for the face. These sunscreens go on light and smooth for everyday use.
My skin is acne-prone and DeVita sunscreens have never clogged my pores. It doesn't feel like you are wearing a sunscreen at all with these products! I apply them on first thing in the morning.
In addition to 19% micronized zinc oxide (it’s non-nano), they contain ingredients that support your skin like aloe, grape seed extract and vitamin C.
Fun in the Sun
If you are planning a day at the pool or the beach, you need a stronger product to withstand the elements. When I’m going into full sun exposure, I turn to Beautycounter’s line of water-resistant products.
Beautycounter offers a line called Countersun with a lotion, a stick and a spray sunscreen. Beautycounter is always free of synthetic fragrance, parabens, and 1,500 other harmful or questionable ingredients.
Their sunscreens are reef safe, so you can take them to Hawaii, and you can even pack the spray in a checked bag!
In addition to sunscreen, Beautycounter offers skin care, hair care and makeup that perform like any high-end product, but without disrupting your hormones or exposing you to heavy metals.
Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDNP, is trained in functional health coaching and has worked with thousands of women over her career since 2004. She is the founder of Women’s Wellness Collaborative llc and HormoneDetoxShop.com.
Grab Bridgit’s list of 5 Easy Detox Swaps for Women’s Health to start clearing out the toxins and reset your system to feel better today!