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How to Buy Sunscreen that is Safe

Sunscreen is a double-edged sword. It’s full of ingredients proven to protect our skin from damaging UV rays, but at what cost? The table below outlines some of the human concerns for eight common sunscreen ingredients approved by the ​​U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
 
 
Sunscreen Chemicals Seep Into the Bloodstream
Studies as far back as 2008 have found traces of sunscreen ingredients in breast milk and urine samples. But a 2019 study published by the FDA revealed that sunscreen chemicals seep into our bloodstreams and can be detected on our skin and in our blood weeks after we apply it.
When that 2019 study was published, the FDA only classified two sunscreen ingredients as “safe and effective” — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. As for the others, the administration said the presence of these ingredients in our blood is not necessarily a health hazard, but that it’s definitely a high enough amount to warrant “further testing.” We are still waiting on that research.
 
Cancer-Causing Chemicals Found in Sunscreen
A more recent study from 2021 found that the sunscreen ingredient octocrylene degrades into benzophenone, which is a compound suspected to cause cancer and interfere with the body’s hormones.
That same year, we saw recalls for five Johnson & Johnson aerosol sunscreen products that contained the carcinogen benzene. The recalls included certain products from many top brands, including Coppertone, Banana Boat, Neutrogena and Aveeno.
 
Sunscreen Concerns for Pregnant and Nursing Women
Meanwhile, oxybenzone products have been found to pose a risk specifically for pregnant and nursing mothers.
Studies have found this chemical in the urine and blood of pregnant women as well as in fetal and umbilical cord blood. And women with medium to high levels of oxybenzone in their urine showed a correlation to giving birth to babies with Hirschsprung’s Disease — a colon condition that makes it difficult for babies to pass stool.
 
Sunscreen Product Guide: What to Look for and What to Avoid
Despite the numerous studies that have raised concerns about many of these chemicals, the majority of them are still FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients. And unfortunately, that means you’ll need to put in a little extra work to find products that are safe for both you and the environment.
 
Avoid: Sunscreen Sprays
We know spray sunscreens are popular for their ease and convenience, but you should avoid them. People using spray sunscreens have a much higher risk of sunburn, especially since most don’t rub the spray in (yes, you’re supposed to).
But beyond that, aerosol sunscreens can be damaging to your lungs and to the ecosystems that are getting drenched by it.
 
According to Environmental Working Group, the FDA found that three of 14 tested sprays would not meet the administration’s proposed inhalation standard, but it did not reveal which three products failed the test, so it’s best to just avoid them altogether.
 
Avoid: Sunscreen Powders
Sunscreen powders, or brush-on sunscreens, have shown effectiveness at preventing UV rays from damaging our cells, but they pose an inhalation threat similar to that of spray sunscreens. Especially since the “safe” sunscreen ingredients (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) are dangerous in powder form.
When titanium is inhaled in a fine powder, it behaves in your lungs similar to asbestos would.
 
Look For: Mineral Sunscreen
Mineral sunscreens primarily use only organic ingredients as well as the only two sunscreen ingredients certified safe and effective by the FDA. So if you see a mineral sunscreen, you can save yourself the trouble of having to remember all of those long and confusing products that you should stay away from.
 
 
Article adapted from EcoWatch.com.