July 05, 2023

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REFERENCE LAB

Navigating Sunscreen Labels: Unwanted Ingredients to Keep Off Your Skin
Sunscreen should be an essential part of any skin care routine all year round, but especially during the sunnier months when you’re more likely to spend time outdoors. That’s because sun exposure is responsible for up to 90% of the extrinsic damage that skin incurs, which can lead to adverse health consequences, along with premature skin aging. 1 To experience the
benefits of sunscreen, it is important to know how much sunscreen to put on your face, and it’s recommended that you apply sunscreen on a daily basis all year round, with extra reapplication throughout the day. This renders sunscreen product with the most potential exposure to your skin, making its ingredient safety extremely important. Unfortunately, many sunscreens contain ingredients that can be harmful to your skin and body over time, including allergens, synthetic fragrances, and chemical filters. It’s important to understand which sunscreen ingredients to avoid in order to ensure your healthy habits don’t cause other unforeseen consequences.

_LEARN

/

REFERENCE LAB

July 05, 2023

Navigating Sunscreen Labels: Unwanted Ingredients to Keep Off Your Skin
Sunscreen should be an essential part of any skin care routine all year round, but especially during the sunnier months when you’re more likely to spend time outdoors. That’s because sun exposure is responsible for up to 90% of the extrinsic damage that skin incurs, which can lead to adverse health consequences, along with premature skin aging. 1 To experience the
benefits of sunscreen, it is important to know how much sunscreen to put on your face, and it’s recommended that you apply sunscreen on a daily basis all year round, with extra reapplication throughout the day. This renders sunscreen product with the most potential exposure to your skin, making its ingredient safety extremely important. Unfortunately, many sunscreens contain ingredients that can be harmful to your skin and body over time, including allergens, synthetic fragrances, and chemical filters. It’s important to understand which sunscreen ingredients to avoid in order to ensure your healthy habits don’t cause other unforeseen consequences.
Harmful Ingredients in Sunscreens: What You Need to Know
The two types of sunscreens are based on their active ingredients, and include chemical sunscreens and physical (or mineral) sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing high energy UV rays and emitting them at low energy levels as heat. Mineral sunscreens work by forming a physical barrier that blocks UV rays from penetrating skin cells. 2
Historically, chemical sunscreen products have been more popular than mineral sunscreen products for their superior ability to absorb into skin, work well under makeup, and blend into a range of skin tones. Mineral sunscreens, though known to be generally safer for frequent use, tend to be thicker and often leave a white cast on skin, making them difficult to wear underneath makeup. However, newer formulations, including tinted vs untinted sunscreen options, address these concerns and offer a solution for daily sun protection without compromising your beauty routine. As awareness around topical skin care products and ingredients picks up, mineral sunscreens are becoming increasingly popular, prompting companies to develop innovative formulas that can make them more palatable for daily use.
Nevertheless, far more chemical sunscreens are in circulation, many of which contain ingredients that can cause adverse effects when applied to skin and then absorbed into the bloodstream. Chemicals introduced to skin topically can impact health by way of penetrating the skin barrier and entering the bloodstream, leading to a potential allergic reaction, hormone imbalances, inflammation, and more. 3 Stay tuned for a look at some harmful chemicals commonly present in both
face and body sunscreens and their potential disruptions to your body skin and the environment.
Harmful Ingredients in Sunscreens: What You Need to Know
The two types of sunscreens are based on their active ingredients, and include chemical sunscreens and physical (or mineral) sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing high energy UV rays and emitting them at low energy levels as heat. Mineral sunscreens work by forming a physical barrier that blocks UV rays from penetrating skin cells. 2
Historically, chemical sunscreen products have been more popular than mineral sunscreen products for their superior ability to absorb into skin, work well under makeup, and blend into a range of skin tones. Mineral sunscreens, though known to be generally safer for frequent use, tend to be thicker and often leave a white cast on skin, making them difficult to wear underneath makeup. However, newer formulations, including tinted vs untinted sunscreen options, address these concerns and offer a solution for daily sun protection without compromising your beauty routine. As awareness around topical skin care products and ingredients picks up, mineral sunscreens are becoming increasingly popular, prompting companies to develop innovative formulas that can make them more palatable for daily use.
Nevertheless, far more chemical sunscreens are in circulation, many of which contain ingredients that can cause adverse effects when applied to skin and then absorbed into the bloodstream. Chemicals introduced to skin topically can impact health by way of penetrating the skin barrier and entering the bloodstream, leading to a potential allergic reaction, hormone imbalances, inflammation, and more. 3 Stay tuned for a look at some harmful chemicals commonly present in both
face and body sunscreens and their potential disruptions to your body skin and the environment.
Common Sunscreen Allergens: Ingredients to Steer Clear Of
Harmful chemicals in sunscreens, including additives, preservatives, and fragrances can lead to skin allergies such as contact dermatitis. Additionally, they can enter the bloodstream and cause negative effects to bodily systems such as hormone disruption and even cancer. 4
Hormone disruption sunscreen chemicals work by blocking hormones or mimicking them, which signals to your body that you have high levels. For example, abnormally high levels of estrogen in the body can cause hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer to develop and grow. 4 Some hormone disruptors that are commonly present in sunscreen include oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone. 3,6
Contact dermatitis is a skin irritation caused by exposure to a substance or an allergic reaction to a substance. 5 Symptoms of contact dermatitis include an itchy rash, cracking, scaling, blisters, swelling, and tenderness. 5 If you are showing signs of contact dermatitis and using a new sunscreen or increasing your frequency of sunscreen use, it is likely you are experiencing contact dermatitis from a sunscreen ingredient. Here are some of the sunscreen ingredients most likely to trigger an allergic reaction, especially in those with sensitive skin: 2
  1. Cinnamates:
    Compounds related to cinnamon. Commonly used as fragrances in products or in sunscreen due to high UVB absorption. Cinnamate derivatives can also cause free radical release. Common cinnamates include octyl methoxycinnamate and octocrylene. 7
  2. Benzophenone:
    Aromatic ketones that have UVA and UVB absorbing properties. Commonly found in sunscreen, lotions, hair products, and nail polish. Other names for benzophenone include diphenyl ketone, benzyl benzene, and phenyl ketone.8
  3. Dibenzoylmethane:
    Commonly listed as avobenzone in sunscreen. Has UVA absorbing properties. Allergic reactions are often caused by preservatives used in conjunction with avobenzone to stabilize it. 9
Common Sunscreen Allergens: Ingredients to Steer Clear Of
Harmful chemicals in sunscreens, including additives, preservatives, and fragrances can lead to skin allergies such as contact dermatitis. Additionally, they can enter the bloodstream and cause negative effects to bodily systems such as hormone disruption and even cancer. 4
Hormone disruption sunscreen chemicals work by blocking hormones or mimicking them, which signals to your body that you have high levels. For example, abnormally high levels of estrogen in the body can cause hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer to develop and grow. 4 Some hormone disruptors that are commonly present in sunscreen include oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone. 3,6
Contact dermatitis is a skin irritation caused by exposure to a substance or an allergic reaction to a substance. 5 Symptoms of contact dermatitis include an itchy rash, cracking, scaling, blisters, swelling, and tenderness. 5 If you are showing signs of contact dermatitis and using a new sunscreen or increasing your frequency of sunscreen use, it is likely you are experiencing contact dermatitis from a sunscreen ingredient. Here are some of the sunscreen ingredients most likely to trigger an allergic reaction, especially in those with sensitive skin: 2
  1. Cinnamates:
    Compounds related to cinnamon. Commonly used as fragrances in products or in sunscreen due to high UVB absorption. Cinnamate derivatives can also cause free radical release. Common cinnamates include octyl methoxycinnamate and octocrylene. 7
  2. Benzophenone:
    Aromatic ketones that have UVA and UVB absorbing properties. Commonly found in sunscreen, lotions, hair products, and nail polish. Other names for benzophenone include diphenyl ketone, benzyl benzene, and phenyl ketone.8
  3. Dibenzoylmethane:
    Commonly listed as avobenzone in sunscreen. Has UVA absorbing properties. Allergic reactions are often caused by preservatives used in conjunction with avobenzone to stabilize it. 9
Synthetic Fragrances and Sunscreens: Why You Should Be Cautious
Fragrances are often used to either add an air of luxury to a product or to mask the smell of other ingredients. 1 However,
fragrances in skin care
is known to be one of the leading causes of contact dermatitis in cosmetic products. Some fragrances can even cause reactions that lead to skin irritation when exposed to the sun, called photo-allergic or photo-toxic reactions – an obvious concern if contained in products meant to be used in the sun. 1
In addition, companies in the US are allowed to label up to 400 different chemical names under just the word “Fragrance” on an ingredients label in order to protect trade secrets. 10 This can make it difficult to identify which specific fragrant ingredients are causing allergic reactions. This is concerning, given the fact that fragrance chemicals are common causes of topically-induced adverse health effects. These chemicals include acetone, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool, methylene chloride, phthalates, stearates, and parabens. 10
Synthetic Fragrances and Sunscreens: Why You Should Be Cautious
Fragrances are often used to either add an air of luxury to a product or to mask the smell of other ingredients. 1 However,
fragrances in skin care
is known to be one of the leading causes of contact dermatitis in cosmetic products. Some fragrances can even cause reactions that lead to skin irritation when exposed to the sun, called photo-allergic or photo-toxic reactions – an obvious concern if contained in products meant to be used in the sun. 1
In addition, companies in the US are allowed to label up to 400 different chemical names under just the word “Fragrance” on an ingredients label in order to protect trade secrets. 10 This can make it difficult to identify which specific fragrant ingredients are causing allergic reactions. This is concerning, given the fact that fragrance chemicals are common causes of topically-induced adverse health effects. These chemicals include acetone, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool, methylene chloride, phthalates, stearates, and parabens. 10
Harmful Chemical Filters in Sunscreens: Which Ones to Watch Out For
Here are 12 ingredients found in sunscreens (mostly chemical sunscreens) that are currently under review by the FDA for their effects on the body and environment, as well as their general efficacy. (11
Harmful Chemical Filters in Sunscreens: Which Ones to Watch Out For
Here are 12 ingredients found in sunscreens (mostly chemical sunscreens) that are currently under review by the FDA for their effects on the body and environment, as well as their general efficacy. (11
05 The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen
  1. Oxybenzone:
    Found in many chemical sunscreen products, enters the bloodstream and circulates into different organ systems. LInked to hormone and endocrine disruption. Causes allergies and photo-allergies, and can be harmful to environmental systems it is introduced into. 6
  2. Octinoxate:
    An organic UV filter, absorbs into the bloodstream and causes hormonal disruptions to the metabolic and thyroid systems and other endocrine targets when absorbed in high amounts. Can cause allergic reactions, and is harmful when introduced into environments. 3
  3. Homosalate:
    A common ingredient in SPF that absorbs UV rays. Causes hormonal disruption and breakdown into toxic byproducts in high concentrations. 3
  4. Octocrylene:
    Neutralizes UV rays from the sun. Absorbs into the skin in amounts that are above the FDA’s recommended limit. 6
  5. Avobenzone:
    Used to block UVA rays. Can destabilize and break down when exposed to sunlight. 13 This can cause allergic reactions, endocrine reactions, and block testosterone when absorbed in high amounts. 3
  6. Dioxybenzone:
    Used in cosmetic products that also provide UV protection. Leads to endocrine disruption. 6
  7. Ensulizole:
    Can cause the release of free radicals or reactive oxygen species. These are damaging to DNA, nerve cells, and other body systems. 6
  8. Meradimate:
    Can release free radicals or reactive oxygen species when exposed to light. 6
  9. Octisalate:
    An organic UV filter that can cause allergic contact dermatitis in high concentrations. There is also evidence suggesting that it has endocrine effects. 3
  10. Padimate O:
    Can cause allergic dermatitis and photosensitivity issues. Can also cause the release of reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, which cause DNA damage, nerve cell injuries, and health issues. 6
  11. Sulisobenzone:
    Can cause skin and eye irritation, as well as endocrine disruption. Allows for deeper penetration of other chemicals. However, this chemical is not often absorbed in high amounts by the skin. 6
  12. Cinoxate:
    Absorbs UV rays and stabilizes other ingredients. Is often in sunscreens at amounts above the recommended limit. 6
05 The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen
  1. Oxybenzone:
    Found in many chemical sunscreen products, enters the bloodstream and circulates into different organ systems. LInked to hormone and endocrine disruption. Causes allergies and photo-allergies, and can be harmful to environmental systems it is introduced into. 6
  2. Octinoxate:
    An organic UV filter, absorbs into the bloodstream and causes hormonal disruptions to the metabolic and thyroid systems and other endocrine targets when absorbed in high amounts. Can cause allergic reactions, and is harmful when introduced into environments. 3
  3. Homosalate:
    A common ingredient in SPF that absorbs UV rays. Causes hormonal disruption and breakdown into toxic byproducts in high concentrations. 3
  4. Octocrylene:
    Neutralizes UV rays from the sun. Absorbs into the skin in amounts that are above the FDA’s recommended limit. 6
  5. Avobenzone:
    Used to block UVA rays. Can destabilize and break down when exposed to sunlight. 13 This can cause allergic reactions, endocrine reactions, and block testosterone when absorbed in high amounts. 3
  6. Dioxybenzone:
    Used in cosmetic products that also provide UV protection. Leads to endocrine disruption. 6
  7. Ensulizole:
    Can cause the release of free radicals or reactive oxygen species. These are damaging to DNA, nerve cells, and other body systems. 6
  8. Meradimate:
    Can release free radicals or reactive oxygen species when exposed to light. 6
  9. Octisalate:
    An organic UV filter that can cause allergic contact dermatitis in high concentrations. There is also evidence suggesting that it has endocrine effects. 3
  10. Padimate O:
    Can cause allergic dermatitis and photosensitivity issues. Can also cause the release of reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, which cause DNA damage, nerve cell injuries, and health issues. 6
  11. Sulisobenzone:
    Can cause skin and eye irritation, as well as endocrine disruption. Allows for deeper penetration of other chemicals. However, this chemical is not often absorbed in high amounts by the skin. 6
  12. Cinoxate:
    Absorbs UV rays and stabilizes other ingredients. Is often in sunscreens at amounts above the recommended limit. 6
Safer Alternatives: Natural and Mineral Sunscreens Without the Harsh Ingredients
As mentioned, physical sunscreens work by forming a physical barrier on skin, reflecting and scattering the harmful UV rays. Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, are often less reactive with skin and deemed generally safer for use. 2 Additionally, since they sit atop the skin, they don’t absorb into the bloodstream like chemical ingredients do.
Two ingredients have been recognized as safe and effective by the FDA for protecting the skin in mineral sunscreens. These ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and are therefore a safe choice for a non-irritating sunscreen. 11 While both are good choices for sun protection, zinc oxide does have an advantage over titanium dioxide. Both minerals have similar strength for blocking UVB radiation, but zinc oxide is more effective at blocking UVA rays than titanium dioxide. This means there is stronger broad-spectrum coverage from mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide. 14
Safer Alternatives: Natural and Mineral Sunscreens Without the Harsh Ingredients
As mentioned, physical sunscreens work by forming a physical barrier on skin, reflecting and scattering the harmful UV rays. Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, are often less reactive with skin and deemed generally safer for use. 2 Additionally, since they sit atop the skin, they don’t absorb into the bloodstream like chemical ingredients do.
Two ingredients have been recognized as safe and effective by the FDA for protecting the skin in mineral sunscreens. These ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and are therefore a safe choice for a non-irritating sunscreen. 11 While both are good choices for sun protection, zinc oxide does have an advantage over titanium dioxide. Both minerals have similar strength for blocking UVB radiation, but zinc oxide is more effective at blocking UVA rays than titanium dioxide. This means there is stronger broad-spectrum coverage from mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide. 14
Making Informed Choices: How to Read and Understand Sunscreen Labels
Sunscreen labels can be confusing, but hold valuable information about the efficacy and safety of topical skin care products. Several important values on a sunscreen include:
  • SPF (Sun Protection Factor):
    SPF refers to the amount of time it takes to acquire a sunburn versus the time to burn with no sunscreen application. An SPF of 30 means it would take 30x as long to sunburn.6 An SPF of 30 or higher is important to ensure the amount of UV rays blocked are sufficient. 16
  • Broad Spectrum:
    A sunscreen that is broad spectrum will protect against both UVA and UVB rays, which are both damaging to the skin. 6
  • Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen:
    A chemical sunscreen will contain one of the chemical ingredients listed above, while a mineral sunscreen will contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. 6
  • Reef Safe:
    While some products are marketed as being reef-safe, or not damaging to the environment, these claims do not have to be substantiated. The ingredient label will tell what sunscreen ingredients are present. 16
Making Informed Choices: How to Read and Understand Sunscreen Labels
Sunscreen labels can be confusing, but hold valuable information about the efficacy and safety of topical skin care products. Several important values on a sunscreen include:
  • SPF (Sun Protection Factor):
    SPF refers to the amount of time it takes to acquire a sunburn versus the time to burn with no sunscreen application. An SPF of 30 means it would take 30x as long to sunburn.6 An SPF of 30 or higher is important to ensure the amount of UV rays blocked are sufficient. 16
  • Broad Spectrum:
    A sunscreen that is broad spectrum will protect against both UVA and UVB rays, which are both damaging to the skin. 6
  • Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen:
    A chemical sunscreen will contain one of the chemical ingredients listed above, while a mineral sunscreen will contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. 6
  • Reef Safe:
    While some products are marketed as being reef-safe, or not damaging to the environment, these claims do not have to be substantiated. The ingredient label will tell what sunscreen ingredients are present. 16
Key Takeaways:
  • A peptide sunscreen, along with other key products like peptide moisturizer and peptide eye cream, is an essential part of any skin care routine as it protects the skin from harmful UV rays from the sun.
  • If sunscreen is worn at the recommended frequency, it will be one of the most common products that your skin is exposed to, therefore it’s especially important to ensure your daily sunscreen doesn’t contain harmful ingredients.
  • There are two types of sunscreen, chemical and physical. Physical, or mineral sunscreens are much less likely to cause adverse reactions such as contact dermatitis when applied.
  • There are 12 ingredients the FDA has declared as unsafe or unsafe in high concentrations when used in sunscreen, most of which are contained in chemical sunscreens.
  • Other additives such as fragrances are often added to sunscreen and can potentially cause allergic reactions.
Key Takeaways:
  • A peptide sunscreen, along with other key products like peptide moisturizer and peptide eye cream, is an essential part of any skin care routine as it protects the skin from harmful UV rays from the sun.
  • If sunscreen is worn at the recommended frequency, it will be one of the most common products that your skin is exposed to, therefore it’s especially important to ensure your daily sunscreen doesn’t contain harmful ingredients.
  • There are two types of sunscreen, chemical and physical. Physical, or mineral sunscreens are much less likely to cause adverse reactions such as contact dermatitis when applied.
  • There are 12 ingredients the FDA has declared as unsafe or unsafe in high concentrations when used in sunscreen, most of which are contained in chemical sunscreens.
  • Other additives such as fragrances are often added to sunscreen and can potentially cause allergic reactions.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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