Sunscreen Fact Check: Should you be worried about the safety of your sunscreen?

Here in PV, we always talk about how sunscreen is an important part of our daily beauty routines. It’s the best and most cost-efficient way of preventing photodamage to our skin. Sunscreen isn’t just necessary for keeping wrinkles and freckles away; it’s necessary protection against the dangers of skin cancer. However, recent news has raised several controversial issues about sunscreen use, prompting many into a panic about this skincare product. Is there actual cause for concern, or is it just more fake news? It’s time for a sunscreen fact check!

Issue #1: Do sunscreen ingredients enter the bloodstream?

According to US FDA officials, some ingredients in chemical sunscreens do get into our bodies and bloodstream. However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that chemical sunscreens are unsafe! Further testing is still needed to see what this finding means. The American Academy of Dermatologists also says that the recent study done was a pilot, and more research is needed before there can be a firm decision whether the absorption of sunscreen ingredients is harmful. 

While more studies are being conducted, both the FDA and AAD encourage the continued usage of sunscreens for UV protection and the prevention of skin cancer, which is the most common type of cancer. The benefits outweigh the risk for now. 

If you feel worried and want to play safe, you can opt for zinc and titanium as physical sunscreens (aka inorganic sunscreens) instead. Staying out of the sun during peak hours, avoiding direct sunlight, and wearing protective gear would also be helpful in keeping you protected. Keep using your sunscreen! 

Issue #2: Can sunscreen harm coral reefs?

Studies show that some sunscreen ingredients really do harm coral reefs. UV filters like Zinc Oxide (a physical sunscreen ingredient) cause bleaching of a certain coral species, while  Oxybenzone (a chemical sunscreen ingredient) is an emerging contaminant in marine environments that weakens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change. The contamination does not only come from people who wear sunscreen while swimming (though it is a big contributor) - it also comes from wastewater from residential discharge. Oxybenzone in particular has posed such a threat to coral reef conservation that Hawaii and other places have already banned this ingredient in their states. 

Since we’re still learning about the full effects, experts haven’t yet reached a consensus on the specifics, such as the amount of sunscreen that is considered as harmful and which ingredients actually cause the damage. As such, there are also no regulations yet in place for determining what sunscreens are “coral reef safe”. For now, sunscreen products that carry this description aren’t necessarily proven to actually be safer than normal sunscreens, but I think it’s good to make the effort to avoid harmful ingredients. Human Nature’s SafeProtect Sunscreen SPF30 (P299.75 for 50g) is free from Oxybenzone but contains Zinc Oxide as its sunscreen agent, which can still be harmful to corals. As always, make sure to read the label and keep yourself informed.

Should you just give up going to the beach then? There are other ways to help keep you protected from the sun without causing grief to sea life! Use rash guards and swimwear with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) to cover up and lessen direct sun to skin exposure. It’s also better to use sunscreen in lotion and cream formulas as they use direct application compared to using sunscreen sprays or mists, which actually contributes to sand contamination! Besides, it offers better coverage and surer protection.

Issue #3: Do we get enough vitamin D when we use sunscreen?

When our bodies are exposed to the sun, it responds by producing vitamin D, which is an important vitamin for our bones and development. Our bodies normally produce enough of it (800 IU of vitamin D daily for adults) if we are not sick, if we have a healthy diet, and if we get enough sun exposure. And yes, you’ll still produce enough vitamin D even if you’re wearing sunscreen!

Studies actually prove that vitamin D is better absorbed when we use sunscreen, as it allows for excellent vitamin D synthesis. You also get some of it from the food you eat. If you mainly stay indoors away from sun exposure and have an unhealthy diet though, your physician may advise you to take supplements to make sure you maintain good vitamin levels. But there’s no need to worry about your sunscreen blocking your vitamin D production.

Issue #4: Is homemade sunscreen safer than commercial sunscreen?

We love budget beauty finds as much as the next person but we draw the line at DIY skincare, and for good reason. A lot of “homemade sunscreen” recipes have cropped up all over the internet, with the promise of being budget-friendly, eco-friendly, and safer than commercially available products. Many also tout the “organic products are better” mantra, but that’s not actually true. The biggest problem with homemade formulas is that they actually put their users at risk.

For any cosmetic products, it’s important to undergo proper tests and adhere to regulations to ensure that they are safe to use. Preservatives are necessary to make sure that fungus and bacteria don’t grow in the products and potentially cause skin irritation. Being organic does not offer an advantage; even the US FDA clearly states that organic ingredients can still be toxic and allergenic. 

Homemade sunscreens are not regulated and the people who make them aren’t necessarily certified to do so. Sunscreens also need to be tested in specialized laboratories for SPF (sun protection factor), UVA and UVB coverage, and safety. These tests are costly but without them, using homemade sunscreen may do more harm than good. Stick to using sunscreens (and other skincare) that are FDA registered to ensure your safety.

What do you think about these issues? Are there other sunscreen issues that you know of? Let us know in the comments below!

Photography by Nicole Quindara


Sources:

Vaida, B. (2019, May 13). FDA: Sunscreen Chemicals in Blood Show Need for Safety Testing. Retrieved June 21, 2019, from https://blogs.webmd.com/webmd-interviews/20190513/fda-sunscreen-chemicals-in-blood-show-need-for-safety-testing

Hruza, G. (2019, May 6). American Academy of Dermatology comments on recent study on absorption of sunscreen ingredients. Retrieved June 21, 2019, from https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/study-sunscreen-ingredients

Corinaldesi, C., Marcellini, F., Nepote, E., Damiani, E., & Danovaro, R. (2018). Impact of inorganic UV filters contained in sunscreen products on tropical stony corals (Acropora spp.). Science of The Total Environment,637-638, 1279-1285. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.108

Downs, C. A., Kramarsky-Winter, E., Segal, R., Fauth, J., Knutson, S., Bronstein, O., . . . Loya, Y. (2015). Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology,70(2), 265-288. doi:10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7

Zachos, E., & Rosen, E. (2019, May 21). What sunscreens are best for you-and the planet? Retrieved June 21, 2019, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/sunscreen-destroying-coral-reefs-alternatives-travel-spd/

Correct Use of Sunscreen Allows Vitamin D Production. (2019, May 09). Retrieved June 21, 2019, from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/912787

Patient education: Vitamin D deficiency (Beyond the Basics) (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/vitamin-d-deficiency-beyond-the-basics

Sunscreen FAQs. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs