What’s In Your Sunscreen?

SunscreenSusan Brown Health and Wellness Editor

Studies have shown that spending time in the sunshine during any time of year is important to mental and physical health and wellbeing. There’s good reason why the sun’s rays feel so good on our skin. Perhaps best known for boosting production of vitamin D, exposure to ultraviolet radiation releases endorphins, the feel good hormones that activate the body’s opiate receptors that not only relieve pain, but also induce feelings of pleasure. An Australian study that measured levels of brain chemicals flowing directly out of the brain found that people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy days, no matter what the outdoor temperature. An important role of sunlight in health comes from its effect on mood, as higher levels of serotonin correlate with better mood and feelings of satisfaction and calmness, while lower levels are linked to depression and anxiety.

Scientific research also supports that a bit of sun exposure each day improves sleep, promotes bone growth and strengthens the immune system. While the ideal amount of direct sun exposure remains debatable, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that 20 minutes of sensible sun exposure several times weekly may produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D, as well as give the immune system a boost. Along with the benefits of sun exposure comes a short-term risk of sunburn, as well as a clear risk of long-term effects such as premature skin aging, skin damage and skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest form. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) sunlight is the main cause of the most common forms of skin cancer. In addition to wearing protective clothing and avoiding overexposure, the use of sunscreen may be the most effective way to mitigate the risk of skin cancer.

Along with medicines, such as headache relievers and cough suppressants, the FDA classifies sunscreen as an over the counter (OTC) drug. Per the FDA, a drug is a substance other than food recognized by an official pharmacopoeia or formulary that is intended for use in diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease. The FDA has also recognized that the formulation of sunscreen may need to be improved to contain safer ingredients, as sunscreens have not been subjected to standard safety testing. Earlier this year, the FDA removed 14 of the 16 chemicals commonly found in sunscreens from its generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) category. This does not mean that all sunscreens are unsafe to use. In fact, scientific studies recommend its use on a regular basis. It does mean, however, that the FDA will update regulatory requirements for most sunscreen products sold in the U.S. It also means that it’s very important to read ingredient labels.

Two types of UV filters are used for sunscreen, organic and inorganic. Organic filters absorb UV rays and the chemicals they contain into the body. Without further testing it remains unknown what levels of absorption can be considered safe. Oxybenzone, in particular, is concerning as it is found in most Americans and has been detected in breast milk. Sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate have been banned in Hawaii and Key West, Florida due to their detrimental effects on coral reefs. The FDA is proposing that all current and potential new ingredients be adequately tested for safety, including studies to determine whether the ingredients that penetrate the skin can cause endocrine disruption, cancer or other adverse effects with repeated use. Based on available data, mineral-based, or inorganic UV filters protect by reflecting and scattering UV radiation away from the skin and are not absorbed by the body. Two such ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are broadly considered safe and effective.

The 12 Ingredients requiring more safety data include: ensulizole, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, avobenzone, cinoxate, dioxybenzone, meradimate, padimate O and sulisobenzone. Two additional ingredients, PABA and tolamine salicylate, may be not legally sold in the U.S. While the FDA has not asked the public to stop using sunscreens that contain these ingredients, until the submission and evaluation of new safety and effectiveness data is finalized consumers can make wise choices by screening labels for potentially harmful absorbable ingredients. As skin cancer rates are rising, consumers are advised to continue to use sunscreen and other sun protective measures. Along with avoiding overexposure, sunscreens containing inorganic filters appear to be the better option.

Professional Supplement Center offers these and other safe and effective sunscreen products:

Everyday Natural...Everyday Natural Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 by Goddess Garden Organics: This sheer, non-greasy, certified organic sunscreen offers UVA/UVB broad spectrum coverage through a synergistic combination of naturally occurring zinc and titanium. Additional plant-based ingredients leave skin feeling smooth and protected. Water resistant up to 40 minutes. Gluten, alcohol, paraben, phthalate and synthetic chemical free. Reef safe, biodegradable, Non-GMO vegan formulation.

Active Badger Kids...Active Badger Kids Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 by Badger® Company: This safe, Non-GMO, hypoallergenic, moisturizing sunscreen for kids ages 6 months and older provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection with uncoated, non-nano zinc oxide. 100% certified natural and 95% certified organic, biodegradable, reef and ecosystem safe, lightly fragranced with non-photosensitizing tangerine and vanilla essential oils. Water and sweat resistant for up to 40 minutes. No oxybenzone, octinoxate or other chemical active sunscreening agents.

Natural Mineral Baby...Natural Mineral Baby Sunscreen SPF 30 by DermaE Natural Skincare: Gentle on baby’s skin, this hypoallergenic lightweight sunscreen provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection. Mineral zinc oxide, calming chamomile extract and vitamin E leave skin protected, soft and fortified for up to 80 minutes. Reef safe, eco-friendly, non-nano, and fragrance free. For children aged 6 months and older.

Sport Badger Zinc...Sport Badger Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Cream SPF 35 by Badger Company: Designed for athletes such as surfers, swimmers or mountain bikers, this 5 ingredient, sweat and water resistant, moisturizing sunscreen provides up to 80 minutes of broad spectrum UVA/UVB sun, wind and cold protection while moisturizing and nourishing the skin.  No oxybenzone, octinoxate, or other chemical active sunscreening agents. Biodegradable, reef safe, unscented and antioxidant rich, 94% certified organic, Non-GMO formulation.

Facial Natural...Facial Natural Sunscreen Lotion by Goddess Garden Organics: This ultra-sheer, non-nano, broad spectrum SPF 30 natural mineral sunscreen provides powerful UVA/UVB protection, lessening the risk of sunburn and diminishing the risk of skin damage and early skin aging caused by sun exposure. Water resistant up to 40 minutes. Certified organic, eco-friendly, reef safe, biodegradable, Non-GMO, vegan formulation.

Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/
Shedding New Light on Sunscreen Absorption. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/fda-voices-perspectives-fda-leadership-and-experts/shedding-new-light-sunscreen-absorption
The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreens. https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/
FDA’s Proposed Sunscreen Regulations Would Be Major Win For Public Health. https://www.ewg.org/release/fda-s-proposed-sunscreen-regulations-would-be-major-win-public-health
‘We have one reef’: Key West bans popular sunscreens to help keep coral alive. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2019/02/06/we-have-one-reef-key-west-bans-popular-sunscreens-help-keep-coral-alive/?utm_term=.d808f97b5da6
Is sunscreen safe? https://www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/prevent/is-sunsceen-safe
US FDA questions ingredient safety in sunscreen regulations update. https://chemicalwatch.com/74647/us-fda-questions-ingredient-safety-in-sunscreen-regulations-update