A recent study in JAMA found that chemical ingredients from sunscreen were detected in the bloodstream after one use, sometimes for days after. These ingredients are also detected in breast milk, and have been associated with lower testosterone levels in teenage boys.
So using a safer sunscreen without known harmful chemicals is important. I list some common ones to avoid below, but a lot of people have been asking me about the report from Valisure that found many sunscreens to contain benzene. So let's talk about that first.
Benzene can cause blood cancers such as acute myeloid leukemia and acute non-lymphocytic leukemia. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the chemical as a Group 1 carcinogen, alongside substances such as asbestos. So it is definitely not something we want in everyday products.
It is still not clear how benzene got into the sunscreen, the hypothesis is that contamination occurred somewhere along the manufacturing process and the supply chain.
Of note, it is also often found in products made from petroleum derivatives (e.g. paraffin candles, glues, cleaning products), cigarette smoke and gasoline.
If you want to learn more about the products that tested positive for benzene and what you can do to protect yourself - read my blog post here.
Is suncreen necessary?
Whilst sunlight is vital for health AND is an important way for us to obtain Vitamin D, it is important to practice safe sun and prevent sunburn, which is a risk factor for skin cancer. Sunburn in early life is a risk factor for all types of skin cancer. This is because UV light causes oxidative stress, and when you do not have enough antioxidants to counteract that, can cause premature skin aging and hyperpigmentation if you are prone.
It is also easier to get burnt now. There are more UV rays reaching the earth's surface due to our damaged ozone, and in combination with a poor diet, we are sadly seeing skyrocketing skin cancer rates.
As I mentioned, when we are exposed to UV, there is oxidative damage in the skin - which causes skin aging and increased cancer risk - however, your diet, lifestyle, and genetics can influence how well your body is able to counteract that damage. I have a blog post all about foods that can help mitigate sun damage.
Today, let's focus on sunscreen. Yes, we absolutely need sunscreen if we are in the sun for a prolonged period of time, however, most sunscreens on the market are full of harmful chemicals.
There are several things to consider when it comes to sunscreen:
There are two types of UV light: UVA - causes premature skin aging. UVB - causes sunburn. Both, through unsafe exposure, can be associated with skin cancer risk. SPF - indicates the amount of protection against UVB, not UVA. Look for Broad-spectrum which indicates protection against both UVB and UVA.
Spray bottle - may not offer adequate coating and protection, and may pose a chemical inhalation risk
Avoid products combined with bug spray as it may have reduced efficacy.
Ingredients to avoid:
Oxybenzone, sometimes called benzophenone-3, is banned in Hawaii due to its harm on aquatic life, and yet still found in around 40% of non-mineral based sunscreen. In animal studies, it is an endocrine disruptor and there is some evidence it has a similar impact in humans too - In an evaluation of CDC-collected exposure data for American children, researchers found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements had significantly lower total testosterone levels. It is also a contact allergen, may cause systemic toxicity, and be harmful to aquatic life. It persists and bioaccumulates in our body, and has been detected in breast milk, amniotic fluid, and blood, meaning it can cross over to babies.
Octinoxate - (aka OMC or methoxy-cinnamate) is linked to endocrine disruption as well as reproductive toxicity in animal studies. Harms coral reef.
Parabens, Phthalates - endocrine disruptors, can hide under the guise of ‘fragrance’, so avoid the word Fragrance on that ingredient list.
Earth Mama - EWG verified, they have a tinted sunscreen for the body which is great for mamas looking for a bit of color. Their baby/kids sunscreens are great too.
Thinksport - another EWG-verified brand. We love their SPF50 sunscreens and Chlorine body wash which we use if we've been in the pool.
For the face, I am super picky because most sunscreens break me out! I use and love the tinted sunscreen by Dime (affiliate discount code Vivianchen for 20% off). It does have phenoxyethanol (at a concentration I'm happy with), but if you react to this ingredient, then this sunscreen is not for you.
Another face sunscreen that was 'ok' for me is Suntegrity Impeccable skin tinted sunscreen.(use my affiliate code Platefulhealth for 10% off)