As you may know, I spend a lot of time researching ingredients for the Shop World part of my website. Recently, my focus was sunscreen which opened up Pandora’s box. Choosing the right sunscreen can be an arduous process. There are so many chemicals we’ve been told to avoid such as, parabens, benzophenones, etc… How can we find a sunscreen that’s functional yet doesn’t disrupt our body’s homeostasis?
Chemical vs Physical
Chemical sunscreens, such as avobenzone (a.k.a. Parsol 1789), work by absorbing UV light. These sunscreens usually go on clear and are easy to apply. Physical sunscreens usually contain metallic compounds such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These sunscreens work by reflecting UV light. However, they tend to leave a visible white residue on your skin.
Finding the Right Sunscreen
The key is to understand why manufacturers choose to include certain ingredients in combination with others. One of the goals in creating sunscreen is to prevent UVA and UVB rays from damaging the skin in a way that causes wrinkles to form, accelerating the aging process.
Take avobenzone: On its own, avobenzone provides excellent UVA protection. Unfortunately, avobenzone, without the help of a few other compounds, is inherently unstable; it rapidly breaks down when exposed to sunlight. This is not good if you want an effective, long-lasting sunscreen. Even worse, the breakdown of by-products from avobenzone can irritate the skin. Despite these shortcomings, most experts believe that avobenzone is relatively safe.
Here’s the problem: Avobenzone needs to be combined with a photostablizing agent in order to work effectively. Manufacturers have several options to choose from. One common combination involves avobenzone, plus these four compounds Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene and Oxybenzone*. Of these ingredients, oxybenzone* and homosalate are potential endocrine disruptors (oxybenzone is the worst of the two). Yet, these chemicals are necessary to provide long-lasting sun protection. They help to stabilize avobenzone, offering longer-lasting protection.
In this case, you have to decide if you’re okay using a product that goes on clear and protects you from sunburn, but could potentially disrupt your endocrine (hormone) balance.
Another common blend is avobenzone with Mexoryl (ecamsule) and octocrylene. In this formula, the UVA-blocking effect of avobenzone is potentiated by mexoryl, yet it lacks the endocrine disruptors found in the previous product. L’Oreal owns the patent for Mexoryl. If you are concerned with the issue of animal testing then you may want to wait on purchasing this product. You can find my previous blog post which explains in detail how to know if a company is truly cruelty-free. L’Oreal states in this article that they are actively working with the Chinese government to change the laws.
Also, be sure to avoid products containing octinoxate as this is another endocrine disruptor. Luckily, I wasn’t able to find any examples of products containing this ingredient.
*Oxybenzone and octinoxate can be harmful to coral reefs.
Sunscreen Buying Guide
First step decide whether you’d like the sunscreen to appear clear or leave a whitish tint. If you absolutely don’t mind the white residue, a high-SPF metallic sunscreen is a good choice and helpful for those who may be sensitive to chemical UV-blockers.
If you want your sunscreen to go on clear and protect you from the damage of UVA and UVB rays, a chemical sunscreen is your best choice. To see if it works well on your skin there are various stores that allow you to test out the products before you buy. Recently, at a skin care conference I interviewed the people at CoTZ and tried out a few of their physical sunscreens (YouTube video to follow) and I liked the ingredients and consistency.
Tips & Tricks
- Take a physical, low-SPF and mix it together with a high-SPF broad-spectrum chemical. This will allow you to have a light, more clear base-coat with longer-lasting protection. It also helps you to use less chemical sunscreen. The reason for this is if you use a high-SPF physical lotion the product will contain more of the white zinc and it will make you look like a ghost. This technique helps you have the high-SPF with a reduced ashy look.
- To reduce the whitish color of a physical SPF, try mixing a loose-mineral powder into the lotion. It must be a mineral-based powder, since they contain crushed titanium and zinc. If you mix in any other type of powder, you will risk diluting the SPF. Depending on the color you want, you may have to use a color a couple shades darker than your skin since it will be mixed with a white lotion.