As we head into a holiday weekend and the peak of summer, you’re bound to be stocking up on sunscreen to protect your family during long days at the lake or by the pool. However, the sunscreen that you’re about to buy and slather on yourself and your children likely contains harmful and toxic chemicals that might actually cause more harm than good.
As I always remind my patients, what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it! Your skin is your largest organ, and it’s your body’s protective barrier against the outside world. Our skin can absorb much of what we put on it, so this means that harmful chemicals in body products, including those in sunscreens, can enter your bloodstream and circulate throughout your body, wreaking havoc on your immune and endocrine systems. This is crucial to think about when it comes to putting something on your child’s skin. Children are smaller in size, which means that their skin presents a larger surface area relative to their body weight for the absorption of environmental substances. In addition, their endocrine system and in some cases, immune system, are still developing.
Like many body products, popular sunscreens contain an alarming number of toxins. Every year The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases their Guide to Sunscreens, which includes a list of which chemicals to look out for, and their top picks for the safest brands and products. To make safe and educated buying decisions this season, check sunscreen labels for the most common and concerning ingredients below.
6 Toxins to Avoid in Sunscreen
- Oxybenzone – This chemical absorbs and filters UV light and is therefore a common ingredient in sunscreen, despite causing relatively high rates of skin allergies. It also penetrates the skin at very high rates and acts like estrogen once it enters your bloodstream, disrupting your endocrine system, reducing sperm production, and potentially causing endometriosis.
- Octinoxate – Octinoxate is also readily absorbed via the skin and also disrupts your endocrine system by mimicking hormonal activity that can affect the reproductive system and thyroid.
- Retinyl Palmitate – A form of Vitamin A, this chemical is used in a large number of sunscreens and SPF- containing moisturizers and lip balms because it is believed to slow skin aging. But, when exposed to sunlight, it has been shown to speed the development of malignant cells and skin tumors because UV rays cause the compound to break down and produce destructive free radicals.
- Homosalate – This common ingredient also helps sunscreen penetrate your skin and disrupts hormone balances. It can accumulate in your body faster than your body can detoxify it through your liver, lingering in your body and increasing your toxic burden.
- Octocrylene – This is yet another ingredient that is easily absorbed by the skin and produces free radicals that can cause mutations and damage cells when exposed to UV rays.
- Parabens – Parabens are a group of synthetic compounds commonly added to cosmetics and body products because they prevent the growth of fungus and bacteria. They are dangerous because, like so many ingredients in this list, they disrupt hormone functions, potentially leading to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Five common types of parabens have been banned in the EU, and the FDA is under pressure to ban them in the U.S.
3 Safe Alternatives to Toxic Sunscreens
Beautycounter is my go-to brand for toxin-free sunscreen and body products. I trust Beautycounter for their transparency of ingredients and their commitment to safe, natural, and sustainable alternatives. Beautycounter’s line of sunscreens has consistently been EWG verified and has a rating of 1 this year, meaning very low-hazard. Their brand new line of sunscreens (below) will be added to the list in June.
The following mineral-based sunscreens are made with zinc oxide and ingredients such as antioxidant-rich California poppy, making them great for kids and people with sensitive skin. They are water-resistant and free of preservatives, allergens, and chemicals that can damage coral reefs–so they are safe for the environment too!
As you shop and pack for the holiday weekend, summer vacations, trips to the lake, and even afternoons at the pool, remember to think consciously about what you’re putting on your and your children’s skin and the effect those chemicals can have on your family’s health.