THE TRUTH ABOUT SUNSCREEN
Everything you should know about sun protection!
What are sunscreens?
Sunscreens are topical products that protect the skin from damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun. Traditionally they are a lotion or cream, but next generation products use convenient sprays to apply protection quickly and easily. Sunscreen active ingredients can be organic chemical absorbers (ex. Oxtinoxate or Avobenzone) and/or inorganic physical blockers (ex. Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide). Sunscreens can help prevent sunburn caused by UV rays and may reduce premature signs of aging.
Despite being very popular, they are still many myths surrounding sunscreens
Myth: Sunscreen chemicals cause skin cancer.
Truth: We live in a world of "alternative facts" and several articles have claimed certain sunscreens, with ingredients like retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone can actually cause cancer or are harmful. To date, there is no scientific proof of these claims. The Food and Drug Administration has several safety regulations in place that monitor sunscreen, including safety data. Right now, what science has shown us, is UV radiation is the most common cause of skin cancer.
Myth: Any sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating blocks all harmful UV radiation.
Truth: SPF is a measure that refers only to duration of protection against UVB rays. In the United States there is currently no accepted rating system for protection against UVA radiation and so a product can only claim to be ‘broad spectrum’ and only if it has recognized UVA protectants like Avobenzone, Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide or Mexoryl. Also, for a sunscreen to work as intended, it is very important to apply enough sunscreen, as directed, and to reapply regularly. No sunscreen will work as intended if the directions are not followed.
Myth: All sunscreens block UVA rays!
Truth: Many sunscreens provide some UVA protection but to be a broad spectrum sunscreen that protection must be across the UVA range (400nm- 320nm). Excessive exposure to UVA radiation is linked to premature aging and the occurrence of skin cancers like melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. Ingredients found in broad spectrum sunscreens include Avobenzone, Ecamsule (Mexoryl®), Zinc Oxide, and Titanium Dioxide (to some degree) .
Myth: SPF 50 or SPF 70 are twice as effective as a SPF 30
Truth: There is a 1.3% increase from an SPF 30 (96.7% protection), to a SPF 50 (98% protection) in terms of effectiveness in filtering UV rays. SPF is calculated on a logarithmic scale and so SPF 60 (98.3% protection) is NOT twice as effective as SPF 30, it protect 1.6% more. In fact, it is very difficult to even measure anything beyond SPF 60 and most claims above this have more to do with marketing than science.
Depending on the manufacturer, it takes approx. 10.5% more Active ingredients to test from an SPF 30 to a SPF 50, to gain the 1.3% more protection, but it may take longer for the sunscreen to dry and is usually more moisturizing.
A SPF 50 can provide a longer duration of protection, over an SPF 30, but given that the FDA monograph requires reapplication every 2 hours, it becomes a personal choice. Try both and decide which works best to you.
Myth: A high SPF sunscreen (SPF 100) will protect me all day long with one application.
Truth: Research has shown that high SPF products can actual lead to changes in behavior that will result in a higher incidence of sunburn. Users mistakenly think a high SPF product will protect them all day with one application when in fact ALL sunscreens must be reapplied regularly regardless of SPF (even the labels on high SPF products advise users to reapply regularly, every 2 hours). Common things like swimming/drying off, perspiration during activity and clothing (abrasion between skin and shirt collars, hat bands, wrist watches, sock cuffs, etc.) can all remove sunscreen – even a well-bonded sunscreen. Regular reapplication ensures the best results irrespective of the claimed SPF.
Myth: Some sunscreens are "no tears."
Truth: Eyes are not designed to allow foreign substances or materials in – All sunscreens contain ingredients, which potentially could cause eye sensitivities. Eye irritation depends on the person and the circumstances.
Myth: Some sunscreens are waterproof or sweatproof.
Truth: The FDA has deemed the terms ‘waterproof’ and ‘sweatproof’ as misleading. The allowable description is ‘water-resistant’ (with 40 mins or 80 mins protection below those words) to better reflect the reality that no topical product can be ‘waterproof’. Due to the fact human skin is designed to be ‘shed’ and sunscreen will be removed in this process. Water-resistant sunscreens use special ingredients to better bond to the skin and shed water better, but they still need to be reapplied regularly for best results.
Myth: Some sunscreens are actually sunblocks.
Truth: This is another term the FDA no longer allows as it creates the erroneous implication that a sunscreen can actually ‘block’ UV radiation. In fact, no sunscreens are complete UV blocks. All sun protection products allow some level of UVA and UVB radiation to penetrate the skin regardless of the claimed SPF level of protection.
Myth: Some sunscreens are ‘all-natural’ or ‘organic’.
Truth: There are actually a few ‘all-natural’ sunscreens (ex. mud/clay, hippopotamus sweat, and coral amino acids? but none are commercially available or cosmetically elegant). The FDA only permits 16 active ingredients in products claiming to be a sunscreen (‘legal’ sunscreens are drug products and are made to very strict pharmaceutical standards) and all require some degree of purification or manufacturing and therefore do not meet the criteria of an ‘all natural’ ingredient. There are a number of ‘illegal’ sunscreens marketed in the United States, but these products are not legally able to make SPF claims nor have they met any of the quality standards required in an approved product. Consumers need to be very wary of these ‘black market’ sunscreens making outlandish claims like "all natural".
The term ‘organic’ is also misused and since it is unregulated when it comes to topical drugs and cosmetics there is no uniformity among products making this claim. In food products, ‘organic’ is a term applied to foods with at least 70% certified organic content and this is governed by various bodies, including the FDA. There is no organic certification for sunscreens. If a sunscreen were truly ‘organic’ in a food sense, it would require an aggressive preservative system or refrigeration. To make matters even more confusing, ‘organic’ in a chemical sense refers to the presence of carbon and hydrogen molecules – which is a given with current UV absorber ingredients (making almost all chemical sunscreens ‘organic’ in that sense).
Inorganic molecules like Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide as the exclusive UV screen are possible, but to be effective they must be present in very high concentrations and this creates a very white cream or lotion that looks like white paint on the skin. With nano-technology, the white factor can be minimized. The best combination of the intent of these terms is a sunscreen with some organic active ingredients (using a combination of the 16 approved actives) in an inorganic base that does not require a preservative system. The cosmetic quality silicone is an ideal base in this sense because it does not promote bacterial growth and does not have the drying and potential for skin irritation of a base like ethyl alcohol (SD-40 alcohol) - commonly used in the new propellant-based sprays.
Myth: Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are the only "Reef Safe" sunscreen ingredients.
Truth: NONE of the Active sunscreen ingredients are "Reef Safe", and Human Beings are not "reef safe"!
Currently terms “reef-friendly” or “reef-safe” are used to identify sunscreens that do not use oxybenzone and octinoxate, two FDA approved, common UV-blocking chemicals. Studies have shown these can cause coral bleaching. When coral bleaches (turns white), it’s still alive, but it’s under severe stress, which leaves it susceptible to disease and death.
In July 2021, the state of Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. The city of Key West, Florida, followed suit. People there will only be able to purchase so-called “reef-safe” sunscreens, as these two states comprise of 60% (Hawaii) and 20% (Florida) of the reefs in America.
The truth of it is, no sunscreen has been proven to be completely safe for marine life, including Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Terms like “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly” do not have agreed-upon definitions, nor is their use regulated by the FDA, EPA or managed by a standard-setting organization. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are two of the more widely studied chemicals in sunscreens, but other ingredients, and preservatives, fragrances and other UV-blocking chemical agents, like as octocrylene, are also being scrutinized for their impact on coral. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2018 published a paper stating that more research is required to fully comprehend the impact of sunscreens on coral and that people should continue to take all necessary steps to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
If you have any other Questions or Myths that you'd like answered, email us your queries and we'll do our best to answer.