Friday, May 18, 2018

Banned in Hawaii: Is this Common Sunscreen Ingredient in Your Favorite Sunscreen?




Every year parents stop and ask me what sunblock I use- for myself and for my kids.   We all know we have to protect our families from the sun's dangerous rays... daily and year round if possible, however as more information is known about different popular chemicals used in sunscreens today- it can (and is ) confusing to know if your family's top choice is really just protecting you from the sun's rays and not also exposing you to harmful chemcicals.   Even my top choices have varied slightly through the years (although I have been pretty faithful to 2-3 of them for the last 3 years or so... more on that later) 

WHAT IS NEW IN 2018


The latest news on the sunscreen front this year is the banning of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii (well, a new law that recently passed that will go into effect in 2021).  The reason? These two chemicals, found in roughly 70% of sunscreens on the market, and found  in over 96% of Americans tested,  are severely damaging and bleaching the DNA of corals.

NOT ONLY DANGEROUS TO CORAL…
Oxybenzone, however, is not only harmful to the environment.  The chemical is actually quite harmful to people - especially children.  It is an endocrine disrupting chemical - it mimics estrogen- that some experts say might be stronger than BPA.  It has been linked to endometriosis, early puberty in girls, low sperm count and male infertility, and an increase in hormone-related cancers in men and women. 

WHY IS OXYBENZONE SO COMMON IN SUNSCREENS?
Many parents believe that if a sunscreen is being sold in US stores- its ingredients must have been tested for safety.  However, many chemicals used in today’s sunscreens have actually not been reviewed by the  Food and Drug Administration– instead many were grandfathered in (old chemicals used were allowed to continue to be used)  if they were in use in the late 1970’s when the FDA began to consider sunscreen safety.

The main function of oxybenzone is to absorb UV light, the problem is that it is absorbed by the skin and stays in our body for an unknown amount of time (and the portion that doesn’t get absorbed damages the ocean’s ecosystem).  

Oxybenzone is also used in nail polish, fragrances, hair spray, and cosmetics.

ARE THERE OTHER CHEMICALS I SHOULD AVOID IN SUNSCREEN?
Yes.  In addition to oxybenzone you should avoid:
1.  Octinoxate.   Also banned in Hawaii due to its environmental impact with corals.  It has also been shown to produce hormone like activity- specifically in the thyroid

2. Retinyl palmitate, a type of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is an antioxidant added to skin products because it is believed to help slow the skin's aging process. It is safe to use for night creams, which we use while indoors. However, a federal study recently found that Vitamin A might speed the growth of cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight.

3. Homosalate:  Has been found to disrupt estrogen, androgen and progesterone

4. Methylisothiazolinone:  a common inactive ingredient (that still can make up 40-50% of a sunscreen) - it is a widespread allergen.  In Europe it has been determined that “ no concentration of MI could be considered safe in leave-on cosmetic products (EU SCCS 2014),” but it is still allowed in the US.  

  • It is also a good idea to avoid sunscreens not labeled as “Broad Spectrum” or that have low SPF values between 2 and 14. While they help prevent sunburn, they do not help prevent skin cancer or early skin aging.
  •  Sprays: Be cautious. According to EWG these "pose an inhalation risk and may not provide a thick and even coating on skin."  They may also expose you to propellant chemicals.   Newer spray technology is allowing parents the huge convenience of spraying their sunscreen on their fidgety kids while keeping things safe.  They use a non-aerosol system which is air powered.

SO, WHAT KIND OF SUNSCREEN IS BEST?
- Mineral sunscreens with titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and/or avobenzone are currently the safest bet for your family.  The main reason being that they are not absorbed by our skin

- European sunscreens: According to EWG "Nearly every sunscreen sold in the U.S. claims to offer “broad spectrum” protection, which suggests they shield against harmful UVA rays. But many products are too weak to be sold in Europe, where standards are higher. In Europe, sunscreen makers can formulate their products with four chemicals that offer stronger protection from UVA rays. American manufacturers have been waiting for years for FDA approval to use these sunscreen ingredients." so if you are heading to Europe this summer: stock up!


ANYTHING ELSE?
Yes!   Just as important as using sunscreen?  Incorporating other methods to avoid the sun's dangerous rays when you can, which include:  

  • - wearing a hat
  • - wearing protective clothing
  • - planning around the sun and avoiding peak hours
  • - sticking to the shade as much as possible
  • - wearing sunglasses - even for babies and kids (read more on why this is important and how to choose a proper sunglass for kids here) 



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