Clean Screens

The United States is not a leader in clean ingredients. Our standards for cleanliness in food and cosmetics are frighteningly low compared to those of other developed countries. However, we actually have better standards when it comes to sunscreen. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the US is on the clean side of the SPF situation.

In Europe and some Asian countries, sunscreen is considered a cosmetic, whereas in the United States it’s considered a drug (due to the fact that it often absorbs into your system through your skin). Because of this designation, there are more iffy chemicals used abroad that you won’t find here.

That being said, there is still a hierarchy of healthy, safe choices amidst sunscreens sold in the US. I did a little digging to see just what we’re dealing with here, because I use a lot of sunscreen and maybe you do too. I should know more about the substances I’m smearing all over my skin and the skin of my children (choice spots during the cooler months, but almost every square inch during the summer). And since I’m digging, I thought I’d share my findings.

I already buy my sunscreen from the health food store. You’d think that alone should rule out a fair amount of the nasties, but we’ll see. Let’s go over some of the ingredients you may find in your sunscreen, and then we’ll see how the ingredients in my health food store brands measure up.

Here are some FDA-approved chemicals you might find in your sunscreen: 

Mexoryl SX - approved by the FDA in 2006, penetrates skin, not reef safe though sometimes said to be [1].

Oxybenzone - approved by the FDA, not coral safe, possibly not fish safe, can irritate skin [1].

Octinoxate - approved by the FDA, possible hormonal disruption, not coral safe, possibly not fish safe [1].

Avobenzone - approved by the FDA in small concentrations, possible skin irritation, detected in coral but not found to harm it yet [1].

Titanium Dioxide - approved by the FDA, nanoparticles through oral exposure may be carcinogenic, detected in coral but yet not found to harm it [1].

Zinc Oxide - approved by the FDA, not coral safe [1].

PABA & trolamine salicylate PABA - low levels of toxicity have brought the FDA to approve it only in low percentages, possible skin irritation, unknown whether it is coral safe [1].

Homosalate - approved by the FDA, penetrates skin, disrupts hormones, can irritate skin, not coral safe [2].

Octocrylene - approved by the FDA, penetrates the skin, may irritate skin, not coral safe [2]. 

Octisalate - penetrates skin, not coral safe [2].

I read the labels on 2 of the natural brand sunscreens that I have at the house. The active ingredients in Sunscreen #1 are Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octocrylene, and Octisalate. The Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii says that all of these ingredients are not actually reef safe, though sunscreen brands that contain them often label them as so. The only active ingredient in the Sunscreen #2 is Zinc Oxide. The STAH also says that though Zinc Oxide does have negative effects on coral, this ingredient is less damaging than the ingredients in Sunscreen #1.

That being said, The Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii’s only better recommendation is covering up. So, here you have it. Some facts, not all of them, and hopefully some better preparation to make your sunscreen decisions.





Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash