Between cosmetics and personal care, women apply an average of 168 chemicals on their bodies daily. Some of these are harmless, but others haven’t been independently reviewed for safety before entering the market. There’s growing concern that the combined chemical burden of these products lead to increased rates of reproductive issues and cancer among women.
In the sunscreen world, the Federal Drug Administration is researching further into six common chemical ingredients, because these were found to be absorbed into the bloodstream at higher rates than are considered safe. They can remain in the bloodstream for weeks and have even been detected in breastmilk.
Currently, the only two sunscreen filters the FDA has listed as safe and effective are zinc and titanium dioxide.
What’s the difference between physical and chemical sunscreen filters?
There are only two physical sunscreen filters; zinc and titanium dioxide. These differ from chemical filters because they sit on top of the skin and reflect or scatter UV light. Chemical filters absorb into the skin and contain organic compounds that catalyse a chemical reaction when exposed to the sun. This reaction transforms UV rays into heat which is then released from the skin.
Which is more protective, chemical or mineral sunscreens?
Physical sunscreens are naturally broad spectrum, meaning they block both UVA (skin ageing) and UVB (skin cancer) rays. Chemical filters often only protect from one or the other unless they’re labelled ‘broad spectrum,’ because in order to protect from both, their needs to be the right combination of chemicals in place to make that happen. For example, avobenzone is a widely used filter that requires other chemical filters to be considered broad spectrum.
Are chemical sunscreen filters bad for you?
This is subject to further research. But so far, studies are showing reasons to avoid them. Avobenzone for example is an endocrine disruptor. It influences testosterone levels and has been detected in serum samples nine times above the FDA’s cutoff for systemic exposure. Saying that, skincare, as with everything, has more grey area than black and white. Not all chemical ingredients are bad, just like not all natural compounds are safe. However, for those wanting to take precaution, it’s best to use sunscreens that we know are safe until further research has been made, to protect your skin from both the sun and unnecessary cosmetic chemicals.