What You Should Know About Sunscreens

by Sololu Team May 25, 2017

What You Should Know About Sunscreens

Some time ago we read an article about sunscreens and their ingredients. We were shocked to find out most of the sunscreens seem just as bad as the sun rays itself. We've always used sunscreens that smelled good and made us tan quicker, but ever since we read that one article we stopped buying the sunscreens we used to buy. Of course most of the sunscreens protect us from UV rays, but according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) some of them could also contribute to the risk of some of the worst forms of skin cancer. So this is why you might want to consider buying a safer, more organic sunscreen.

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We know there are a lot of sunscreens on the market, so how do you know which one to pick and which one is more safe? Here below is a list of what you don't want:

  • Oxybenzone - This is an ingredient that penetrates the skin, enters the bloodstream, acts like estrogen in the body and can trigger allergic reactions. One study has linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women; another found that women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters. Oxybenzone is the most common ingredient in chemical based sunscreens and blocks UVB rays (which are somewhat good, because they provide vitamin D production), and some, but not all UVA rays (which are the most damaging rays). Avoid any sunscreen that contains this chemical.
  • Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) - Vitamin A is an antioxidant added to a lot of skin products, because it's supposed to have anti-aging effects. It might not be harmful when using lotions and night creams indoors, but on sun-exposed skin this ingredient may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions, according to government studies.
  • Fragrance - Of course it's nice when the product smells nice, but fragrance is a chemical associated with allergies and organ toxicity. So you also want to avoid this.
  • High SPF - Products with high SPFs may protect your skin against sunburn, but could keep your skin exposed to damaging UVA rays. SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and refers only to protection against UVB radiation, which burns the skin. It has little to do with protection from sun’s UVA rays, which penetrate deep into the skin, suppress the immune system, accelerate skin aging and may cause skin cancer. The EWG recommends to avoid products labeled with anything higher than SPF50. If you would like to read more about this, check out this article.
  • Sprays - Most of the sunscreen sprays have additional chemicals in them for performance purposes. These additional chemicals are usually not what you want to spray on your body, plus it can be toxic to your lungs.
  • Tanning Oils - Tanning oils may give you a nice tan, but offer little, if any, sun protection. Do not buy sunscreens with SPF values lower than 15.
  • Popular brands - Most popular brands like Aveeno, Banana Boat, Coppertone, Neutrogena and Hawaiian Tropic are rated the worst in terms of safety on the EWG website. You can use the EWG's guide to find out how good or bad the brand you have or want to buy is rated.

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Here below is a list of what you do want:

  • Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone - Look for a titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone based sunscreen (zinc oxide preferred). These provide strong sun protection with few health concerns, protect us from UVA rays and does not penetrate the skin.
  • Non-nano - Pick a non-nano sunscreen that does not contain nanoparticals that can absorb into the skin.
  • Unscented - Choose a product with no fragrance in it, or choose one that uses essential oils as fragrance.
  • Lotion based - Make sure it's a lotion based sunscreen (no spray).
  • Water resistant - Pick a sunscreen that's water resistant, it will last longer than sunscreens that aren't water resistant.
  • Broad spectrum - Choose a sunscreen that protects you against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen.
  • Rating 0-2 - Get a sunscreen that's rated 0-2 on the EWG website

Another thing to keep in mind is if you cover up or use sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun's rays, this may contribute to deficiency in vitamin D. Vitamin D is critical for maintaining healthy bones and supporting a strong immune system which helps in defending your body against diseases. To make sure you get enough vitamin D, it is recommended to eat more foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D and/or take vitamin D supplements. If you're unsure about your vitamin D levels, it is recommended to have your physician test these. Also, be aware that too much vitamin D can cause side effects. 

We wanted to share this, because it is important to know that a lot of sunscreens aren't as safe as you may have thought. Nothing will change if it doesn't get shared, so feel free to share this post with others.

x Sololu Team


Images from Dan Gold via Burst

Sololu Team


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