There is more than SPF
Isn’t it challenging to navigate the chemistry of protective skincare products? It is for me. At least three types of skin-damaging sunlight and sixteen types of sunscreen — how to make sense of sunscreen labels in 2020? Sunscreens are monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but sold over the counter; the decision is entirely yours, which one to use. The newest 2020 update by Sarah Gabros and Patrick M. Zito, emphasize the importance of knowing what’s what and avoiding chemicals that are likely to enter your bloodstream and disrupt your health.
Here is what you need to consider next time you are buying a sunscreen cream. UVC, UVB, and UVA are three harmful UV radiations. Normally ozone layer absorbs most UVC and lets us deal with most UVA and 10% of UVB. Two proven solutions exist to protect skin from premature aging and potentially from skin cancer. Either you create a physical barrier to reflect the light or apply a chemical that absorbs the light. Everyone knows that SPF (sun protection factor) is the measure of sunscreen cream efficacy; things get more complicated when it comes to ingredients.
Before L’Oreal introduced the first commercial sunscreen in 1936, a pair of sunglasses and a hat was the winning combination. Hat, sunglasses, protective clothes, and even a non-SPF makeup could significantly shield your skin. Sunglasses absorb almost all of the 99% of the full Ultraviolet (UV) spectrum. Car’s windshield is filtering over two-third of UV and guards better than side windows simply because windshields contain zinc. The bigger brim of the hat usually protects better than a small one. The darker colored clothes and hats act as a better barrier compared to light colors. Loose fit dark shades clothes are your best bet to protect your skin physically. The pigment in the non-SPF makeup tackles up another four percent of UV for 4 hours.
The white film left after the sunscreen application is a sure indication that the cream is a physical protection sunscreen, also called mineral, inorganic. Microfine titanium dioxide (TiO2) and microfine zinc oxide ( ZnO) are two commonly used inorganic ingredients for a physical barrier. They appear as white residue on the skin, but fortunately have limited chances of getting into the bloodstream. TiO2 and ZnO are inert and non-penetrating. That is not the case with chemical creams.
Chemical sunscreens are known as organic sunscreens, and they work by absorbing high energy UVA. Organic is a buzz word; be aware in sunscreen manufacturing, organic does not equal natural. Some hard to remember active ingredients in the creams are:
- MBBT (methylene-bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol)
- BEMT (bis- ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine)
- Ecamsule (Terephthalylidene dicamphor sulfonic acid)
The reality is that almost every chemical applied to the skin may end up in the bloodstream; in the case of sunscreen, FDA aims for acceptable levels of sunscreen in blood under 0.5 ng/mL.
Small molecules penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream causing harmful disruption of the hormonal balance. A recent study examined breast milk samples: almost all of the samples contained sunscreen ingredients. From the available today scientific evidence, benzophenones are the ones you need to avoid. The participant’s plasma was tested for oxybenzone; one spray resulted in 209.6 ng/mL (one spray) and 169.3 ng/mL for lotion after only one day of use. The least plasma concentration was checked for ecamsule: 1.5 ng/mL (cream) and octocrylene, 2.9 ng/mL (one spray).
Benzophenones are derivative of PABA; for example, oxybenzone (BP-3) has an anti-estrogenic effect; it gets absorbed by the skin and enters the bloodstream 1–2 hours after the application. Sunscreen benzenes can travel through the placenta. An animal test confirmed that BP-3 containing sunscreen might not be male-friendly; it may decrease the sperm count, delay puberty, and cause a reduction in prostate weight.
A recent French study examined the beaches of the French Mediterranean coast: every day, 3000 beachgoers apply an average of 52.5 kg of sunscreen, and almost a third (15,7 kg) ends up in the water. Both mineral and organic UV filters were detected in higher concentrations in the bathing area than offshore. In general, higher levels were recovered in the top surface layer than in the deep waters: 100–900 μg/L for TiO2, 10–15μg/L for ZnO, and 10–15 ng/L for avobenzone. Just taking a dip could risk an unplanned exposure.
Sunbathing is fun, and vitamin D is an essential aspect of maintaining a healthy immune system. However, do not develop a false sense of security when using sunscreen, staying outside for a more extended period, or using a wrong cream that may harm your body.