What chemicals are in your beach bag? Protecting from Skin Cancer or causing more harm?
Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Harmful Chemicals in Sunscreen and Body Care Products
As soon as summer arrives, our shopping list gets a special product: Sunscreen. Whilst out on camping trips, beaches, and hikes, you are more prone to sun and ultraviolet exposure, than normal. Since long, sunscreens have been told to protect against ultraviolet radiation. Unfortunately, a lot of sunscreens available on the market are laced with toxic chemicals that end up giving consumers hormonal and skin problems. Therefore, it is important to read the ingredients on the skincare products you buy, and if you find anything that deviates from the good ingredients, you should resort to natural products bestowed upon us by mother nature. And for that, we have got you covered.
Below, we mention 5 important toxic categories found in sunscreens and some natural remedies that can serve as an alternative to protect you from the UV radiation.
1. Chemicals in Sunscreens.
Some of the chemicals one can see on the labels include avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, octisalate, octinoxate, and homosalate.
Oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, is used widely in sunscreens. According to the FDA, blood levels were 438 times above the cutoff for human systems after being absorbed into the body. Oxybenzone was also found in breast milk. It affects weak estrogen and moderate anti-androgens, disrupting the endocrine system. It also alters the birth weight of fetuses in pregnant females. The ingredient also is a culprit for high rates of skin allergy (photo-allergy) and is an irritant for the eye.
Avobenzone, another benzophenone, is also widely used in sunscreens. According to the FDA, the blood levels were 9 times above the cutoff human system after exposure. While there is no evidence of hormone disruption by this product, there is very valid evidence of high rates of skin allergy. This chemical helps other chemicals to penetrate the skin, and increases free radicals, therefore leading to a high risk of skin cancer as well.
Homosalate, also having a widespread use in sunscreens, was found to be 37 times above cutoff in blood for humans by the FDA; it was also found in breast milk. The chemical accumulates faster in the body than it is eliminated, therefore it is known to disrupt androgen, progesterone, and estrogen. It also produces skin allergies by breaking down into toxic products, and by helping other products to be absorbed into your skin.
Octisalate, again having a widespread use, was found 10 times more than the systemic cutoff. The chemical has shown skin penetration in lab studies. Octisalate has not shown much endocrine disruption. Skin allergies, if occurred, have rarely been reported.
Octocrylene, another of the notorious ingredients, was found 14 times more than the cutoff for the human blood system and was also found in the breast milk of lactating mothers by the FDA. This one has shown high rates of skin allergy too, especially in people with sensitive skin.
Octinoxate/Octylmethoxycinnamate, was found 13 times more in the blood levels than the systemic cutoff in the FDA studies. It was also found in the lactating mother’s milk and human urine. This chemical shows hormone-like activity, therefore disrupts thyroid hormone, and is also involved in moderate kinds of skin allergy and reproductive toxicity.
2. Insoluble nano-particles.
These are bio-persistent (insoluble) materials that are almost 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Nanoparticles in sunscreen consist mainly of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which due to their small size of 1-100 nanometers, are more chemically reactive and more readily absorbed in the body. Some researchers claim that the particles seep deep into the skin, then travel to the bloodstream, and cause inflammation. Titanium dioxide is said to be a potential carcinogen (causes cancer) and can cause damage to the lungs when inspired.
3. Sunscreen Preservatives: Parabens.
Parabens are used as preservatives and anti-microbials in sunscreens. They are recognizable on the product label because of the suffixes -paraben or – parahydroxybenzoate, so if you come across such a word on the sunscreen label, please be wary. They are notorious for estrogen disruption, which is associated with breast cancer. Parabens also promote allergies and disrupt developmental and reproductive health.
More specifically, retinyl palmitate/vitamin A palmitate, which is an ester of retinol (vitamin A) and palmitic acid, the chemical is found in many sunscreens. On sun exposure, the compound breaks down into toxic free radicals, which damage our DNA irreversibly and accelerate the development of skin lesions and tumors. If nothing at all, it causes allergies. High levels of Vitamin A otherwise have proven to be toxic to the developing fetus.
Phthalates have been found in sunscreens too. These compounds interfere with normal male genitalia development and block male hormone testosterone. Increased levels of phthalates in sunscreen predispose male consumers to low testosterone levels, reduced sperm count, slow-moving sperms, and testicular cancer. As such, they are termed endocrine disruptors and can also alter brain working.
The way to go about all of this:
Read the sunscreen labels, and if you don’t find the appropriate ones, try our healthy, natural alternatives to sunscreens which provide equally good protection from the UV rays.
Shea Butter: Shea butter, an organic extraction from the nuts of the shea tree, has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) between 6-10. It can prevent the user from sun damage. Not only that, it contains anti-oxidant vitamins which are helpful for skin otherwise.
A combination of oils: Coconut oil is said to be SPF 10, but it shall not protect from very strong sunlight. Therefore, mixing it with some other oils could be helpful. Other oils that have good sun protection factors are sesame oil (protects up to 30% of rays, so needs frequent reapplying), red raspberry seed oil (SPF around 28), carrot seed oil (hard to find but has 38 plus SPF and carotenoid antioxidant action too). Mixing these and applying them before going out in the sun would protect you and cherry on top, you would not be absorbing any toxic products in your skin.
Taking an astaxanthin pill can provide you several benefits: Anti-oxidant effect of carotenoids, more powerful than antioxidant vitamins, therefore protecting the skin better from UV rays and solar injuries. Swallowing a pill of astaxanthin is beneficial for not only the skin but also for improving blood flow and other health benefits.