Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Understanding Sunscreen Labels: Information about the Ingredients

A bottle of sunscreen.
A bottle of sunscreen.
Source: comedy_nose | Flickr
Some of the ingredients you might find in a bottle of sunscreen are:
  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Avobenzone
  • Oxybenzone
  • Mexoryl SX (ecamsule)
  • Retinyl Palmitate or Retinol
The purpose of sunscreen is to absorb or scatter UV radiation. Both types of UV (A and B) should be avoided. Older sunscreens don’t offer that. That is why we should look for labels with broad spectrum, wide spectrum, or UVA/UVB spectrum. Ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, mexoryl SX (ecamsule) and oxybenzone offer broad-spectrum protection. But according to the Environmental Working Group or EWG, oxybenzone is a “hormone- disrupting” compound as shown in a study of mice, and should therefore be avoided. The group recommends zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as safe and effective UV blockers. Ecamsule is also safe but very few sunscreens has this forumulation, while avobenzone should be limited to only 3%.
Another ingredient is the retinyl palmitate (retinol), added to sunscreens for its antioxidative properties. It's usually added for cosmetic purposes and can also be found on beauty products such as facial creams. It’s a form of Vitamin A and is an inactive ingredient in sunscreens. The EWG is against the use of this ingredient, as it accelerates skin damage and poses skin cancer risks when applied under the sun, test results in mice shows.
The American Academy of Dermatology contradicts these claims. In a recent post in their website (See link below), the academy states that sunscreens are safe to use. Oxybenzone is an FDA-approved chemical and has been used in sunscreens since 1978. Retinyl palmitate is also safe to use. In fact, this vitamin has been widely prescribed to treat skin diseases. Research studies suggesting these chemicals’ harmful effects on health are tested on mice and therefore shouldn’t be related to humans. Mice are far more susceptible to skin cancer than human beings. Also, the amount of ingredients tested on these rodents is in significantly greater amount than what is used in sunscreens. People with skin conditions such as eczema, on the other hand, should avoid using sunscreens altogether (even those with EWG approved compounds). As chemicals from these products would enter through the cracks of the skin with yet unknown effects.
In a nutshell, the EWG says that we should avoid oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. The AAD, on the other hand, says that these chemicals are safe to use. EWG advises us to opt for sunscreens with titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, ecamsule, or avobenzone (but at only at 3%). Perhaps it might be too early to conclude about the dangers of some chemicals, when in fact, these are just derived from animal tests and are given in greater amounts. Until now, we could only wait for more research studies to be conducted regarding their safety. If you want to be on the safe side, just use sunscreens with EWG approved compounds. Of course, sunscreen is not the only defensive line against the UV radiation. We should not forget about the sunglasses, hats and protective clothing. Also, both EWG and AAD agree on applying sunscreen properly (Do not use it sparingly!) and frequently. It is still best to avoid exposure or if not with prolonged durations during midday as much as possible.
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