The Problem With Sunscreens

SPF written in sand

Sunscreens are unique skincare products; we are supposed to apply a thick coat over large areas of our face and body and subsequently re-apply often dependant on time and our activity. It follows that the ingredients within sunscreens should be non-irritating and should be able to withstand powerful UV radiation without losing their effectiveness or potentially form harmful products from their breakdown.

The ingredients used in sunscreens may be inhaled when sprayed onto the body or may be absorbed when applied to certain areas such as near the lips. As a result, many sunscreen ingredients are absorbed into the body and can be found in urine, blood and breast milk.

Chemical sunscreens

A large percentage of sunscreens use chemical filters typically containing two or more of chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, homosalate and octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC). Studies indicate that some of these may be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and end up mimicking hormones or disrupting the hormonal systems within our bodies.

The most worrying of all sunscreens is oxybenzone which is used in more than half of the sunscreens currently on the market. In laboratory studies, oxybenzone was found to display weak oestrogenic activity as well as blocking the male hormone testosterone. Aside from this, there were higher incidences of skin reactions.

Mineral sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens are made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide usually in the form of smaller particle size. To date, there is good evidence that little if any of zinc or titanium penetrate the skin to reach our tissues and hence these are generally deemed to be safer than their chemical counterparts.

The downside to the use of mineral sunscreens has always been that those offering superior protection have to have larger amounts of zinc and titanium, which often results in a white superficial layer that is not cosmetically pleasing. Many manufacturers have got over this hurdle by using nano-particles which if sprayed could enter the body through the respiratory system.

Inactive ingredients

A typical sunscreen will contain 60% inactive ingredients which may be a cause for concern. Some preservatives used such as MIS are known to cause skin sensitization or allergies.

Vitamin A is often added to sunscreens because manufacturers believe that it offers anti-ageing benefits due to its antioxidant properties. Whilst this may be true for oral forms, a study using a topical form of vitamin A found that this may speed the formation of cell growth when skin is exposed to sunlight which is clearly not desirable. The use of retinyl palmitate, the most common form of vitamin A used in some sunscreens, may result in damaging free radicals which is exactly the opposite of what this ingredient is supposed to do.

What should you use?

So far we have ascertained that many chemical sunscreens can disturb our hormones and may cause skin sensitivities and rashes. Mineral sunscreens, though generally regarded as a safer option, may be photoactive. Titanium dioxide can react with sunlight to create free radicals that can damage the skin, damage our genetic material and equally damage the sunscreen’s ingredients rendering it less effective.

There is of course always a possibility that one or more of the non-active ingredients used in sunscreens may change due to UV exposure resulting in inflammation or damage to skin. Additionally, ingredients used in one’s skincare may interact with the sunscreen or its non-active ingredients.

Aside from all these potential reactions, chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate are the most powerful free radical generators known to man! Free radicals damage our skin tissues and the most widely accepted theory of ageing so your chemical sunscreen is actually ageing your skin and your body.

Aside from the cosmetic concerns, there is a rising awareness of the damage chemicals found in sunscreens can have on the delicate coral and marine life. It is estimated that 25% of the sunscreen ingredients we apply end up in the water.

Certain chemical sunscreens including oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate and octinoxate have been identified as particularly dangerous for our eco-system deforming coral, making coral susceptible to bleaching and making it less resilient to climate change. And this does not apply to chemical sunscreens only; paraben in sunscreen products is thought to awaken the dormant viruses inside some algae that live inside coral reefs.

These algae are essential to the well-being of coral providing it with its food energy as well as vibrant colour. Once the virus begins to thrive, the algae literally explode resulting in the spread of the viruses to the surrounding coral communities. This infection can occur within a few days and it only requires small amounts of these chemicals to initiate the infection.

Coral is only part of the problem. Chemical sunscreens and many of their ingredients are also toxic to many species of fish and other creatures living in water. Any imbalance in one species invariably affects other species.

Some sunscreens contain organic or natural ingredients that can still damage the skin or affect marine life. Biodegradable is meaningless as degradation of these may still cause a chain of reactions detrimental to skin and the oceans.

Aethic Sôvée is the world’s first eco-compatible, reef-safe sunscreen. It contains three of the most photo-stable filters on the market which means that it provides a broader spectrum of protection against the sun’s harmful rays than most leading sunscreens.

The filters used in Aethic Sôvée sunscreens are:

MBBT – Provides full UVA I and II protection as well as protection against UVB rays; shows little photo-degradation which means that it is not converted into toxic compounds; dissolves poorly in both oil and water; minimally absorbed by skin and is non-irritating.

DHHB – Absorbs UVA rays, photostable, compatible with other UV filters and also provides protection against some free radicals.

EHT – Provides UVB protection, completely insoluble in water; water resistant and provides long lasting protection.

Each Aethic Sôvée sunscreen contains organic moisturisers including olive oil, beeswax and coconut extract providing ideal hydration and nourishment for your skin. Vitamin E is added to ensure free radicals are neutralised. Each ingredient has been tested to ensure it has no impact on marine life and is skin friendly. Food grade preservatives are used to ensure that again these have no impact on skin and the environment and the product is free from parabens, petroleum derivatives, artificial preservatives, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, alcohol and lanolin.

Aethic have also gone a step further in that the packaging is recyclable and the ingredients within the sunscreen are biodegradable. The bottles are made from corn plastic whilst the boxes are made from sustainable paper and do not contain glue.

If you are going out into the sun for prolonged periods of time, you need to protect your skin and a sunscreen is absolutely essential. That is exactly what Sôvée does with its unique triple filter protection. Aethic protects you, your skin, the coral reefs and the marine life of our delicate planet.

This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner.

Shabir Daya, Skin | , , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • Hazel Morin

    Surely the inclusion of essential oils and parfum are also potential irritants?

  • FR

    Such loaded scaremongering, VH to sell a sun cream for £53. Shame on you

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Hazel, a small amount of lavender oil and a synthetic fragrance are used which have been found to be non-irritant, eco-compatible and biodegradable to inert compounds that don’t affect the marine environment nor our bodies.

  • Victoria Health

    Hi, a 2008 study estimated 14000+ tons of sunscreens end up in the oceans. With respect the science on these sunscreens affecting our hormonal systems exists; Aethic work closely with a leading university to ensure eco-compatibility and marine -friendly products.

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Soraya, I believe that you may have misunderstood the intention of the article. The paragraph at the end states “If you are going out into the sun for prolonged periods of time, you need to protect your skin and a sunscreen is absolutely essential. That is exactly what Sôvée does with its unique triple filter protection. Aethic protects you, your skin, the coral reefs and the marine life of our delicate planet”.
    What is essential is that there is no ambiguity on the type of sunscreen you use and if you care about your environment! Some people do and some clearly do not!