There’s an easy way to look significantly younger than your age, and I can’t think of a reason why anyone watching this video wouldn’t use this method.
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Sunscreen: What science says about ingredient safety
Sunscreen is essential for staying protected in the Sun – but recent research suggests some of the ingredients could be improved. BBC Future analyses the evidence.
Melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers. It’s also one that – while still the least common form of skin cancer – is rising in prevalence around the world. Since the early 1990s, rates of melanoma in the UK have increased among every age group. Rates of non-melanoma have increased too. In the US alone, cases of non-melanoma skin cancers have grown by around 77% over the past two decades.
Exposure to UV radiation is the main cause of the most common forms of skin cancer. And one of the most effective ways to avoid it, of course, is sunscreen.
“Any conversation on sunscreen must start with acknowledging that there is robust evidence that it prevents skin cancer,” says Richard Weller, honorary consultant dermatologist at the University of Edinburgh.
This is why, although skin cancer is rising in some countries, it’s decreasing in others – particularly those that have raised the most awareness around the importance of using sunscreen. “Skin cancer rates are increasing among older generations – they’re carrying damage from decades earlier in their lives, because things have changed now,” says Adele Green, senior scientist of the cancer and population studies group at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia. “Countries where rates are falling have had the biggest investments in communicating awareness, such as New Zealand, Denmark, the US and Australia.”
But some researchers have raised concerns that, despite being an undeniably important tool in our fight against skin cancer, the formulation of sunscreen may need to be improved to contain safer ingredients – and, at worst, some sunscreens could be damaging our health.
The FDA removed 14 of the 16 chemicals found in sunscreens from its ‘generally accepted as safe and effective’ category
Earlier this year the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – one of the two main global regulators of sunscreen ingredients around the world alongside the European Commission – removed 14 of the 16 chemicals found in sunscreens from its GRASE (generally accepted as safe and effective) category.
So what is the reality?
Two types of UV filters can be used for sunscreen. The most commonly used are known as organic filters, which absorb UV radiation and convert it into safer radiation. Inorganic UV filters like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – which are broadly considered safe – reflect and scatter UV radiation away from the skin.
It’s long been established that some organic filters are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. This alone doesn’t mean sunscreen is unsafe, but there is growing focus on the potential adverse effects of the most common UV filter worldwide: oxybenzone.
“Little is known about systemic exposure for most active ingredients” in sunscreens, the FDA stated in its report, referring to the effects of large volumes of sunscreen absorbed through the skin and into the body.
FDA scientists authored a paper focusing on four ingredients found in sunscreen into the skin, including oxybenzone, and concluded that absorption of sunscreen into the body may be more than a theoretical concern. However, the trial was very small – involving only 24 people.
Some lab and mice studies have found that some organic UV filters, including oxybenzone, as well as ingredients including parabens and phthalates, which can be found even in sunscreens that use inorganic UV filters, are suspected endocrine disrupters: chemicals that interfere with our hormones. But no research on humans has backed this up.
Laura Vandenberg, associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences, says most endocrine disrupters affect male foetuses and embryos.
High-level exposure to phthalates has been found to disrupt development of male genitals
High-level exposure to phthalates, in particular, has been found to disrupt development of male genitals. This could lead to problems later in life, such as reduced sperm count or increased risk of testicular cancer. However, this effect has only been found in very high doses.
These compounds aren’t just in sunscreens, either. Phthalates also can be found in various other cosmetics, including some soaps, shampoos, nail polishes and hair sprays, and parabens are in many hair care and make-up products
Meanwhile, Vandenberg has found through her research that oxybenzone can affect the size of mice’s mammary glands. Oxybenzone also has been detected in breast milk. That means it could also be in the breast tissue, Vandenberg says, which could affect its development, function and health.
However, we should always be cautious when applying the findings of mice studies to humans, says David Leffell, professor of dermatology and surgery at Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research.
Critics also say research showing adverse effects of UV filters on rodents typically involved much higher levels of UV filters than human use.
For example, in 2011, a group of researchers writing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives put into perspective the findings of one study from 2001. In that study, researchers observed that feeding oxybenzone to young rats caused their uteruses to grow by 23%.
The 2011 researchers calculated that to achieve the same cumulative amount of oxybenzone that was administered to the rats, the average US woman would have to apply sunscreen daily for anywhere from 34 to 277 years, depending on how many times they applied sunscreen per day.
Male partners with higher concentrations of organic UV filter benzophenone had a 30% lower chance of conceiving
Even so, some research has found that organic UV filters may affect humans too. In one study from 2015, researchers studied 500 couples who were trying to conceive and found that male partners with higher concentrations of benzophenone-type UV filters had a 30% lower chance of conceiving each menstrual cycle.
“The longer time to pregnancy may be influenced by subtle changes in semen quality,” says the study’s author Germaine Louis, professor of global and community health at George Mason University in Virginia, US.
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Hormone Safe Sunscreen: Choosing Natural Sunscreen For Summer
Before you throw on a swimsuit and grab your sunglasses for a day of sunbathing, there’s an important step you should not skip: applying sunscreen. I see an eye roll coming and maybe even the common excuse I hear from my patients, “there’s no hormone safe sunscreen,” so let me explain.
While sunscreen can be an annoying part of the sunbathing process with all the reapplying and the pesky white sheen that so many brands cause, it is necessary to protect your health and to keep your skin looking young. Skin cancer deaths are real and you can proactively prevent damage to your skin.
I can hear you asking, “But what about Vitamin D?”. Vitamin D is so important for various reasons (like menstrual health, immune health, and more), so I do think that some daily sun exposure (without sunscreen) is important, but if the sun is out where you live, this will inevitably happen for most people. But at a certain point, we definitely still need sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can negatively affect the skin. It could cause premature aging, sunburn, and precancerous and cancerous lesions. UVA may cause accelerated skin aging and pigmentation, while UVB can cause sunburn and can cause your DNA strands to break.
How Safe Is Sunscreen?
There are two main types of sunscreen: physical blockers and chemical blockers. Physical sunscreens are those that contain mineral ingredients (e.g. zinc oxide and titanium dioxide). These ingredients sit on the skin and deflect harmful UV rays. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays.
While sunscreen should be a vital part of your daily skincare routine, it is worth noting that many chemical sunscreens on the market today can contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can contribute to hormonal imbalance.
Why You Shouldn’t Choose Chemical Sunscreens
One of the main problems with chemical sunscreen is that many of the ingredients in them are EDCs. We should try to avoid EDCs as much as possible, as they are chemicals that mimic our natural hormones, and not in a good way.
EDCs are commonplace in our world, and by mimicking the hormones our body naturally produces, they can wreak havoc on the balance of our hormones. EDCs can affect the adrenals, thyroid, and hormones produced by the ovaries. These chemicals have also been linked to thyroid disease, birth defects, cancer, and infertility.
Sunscreen Ingredients To Avoid
Not all sunscreen components are created equal, and there are a lot of sunscreens out there to choose from. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a comprehensive sunscreen guide and updates it regularly. The EWG rates the most common ingredients based on whether or not they are harmful or allergenic to our bodies. This is what I tell my patients to use when sunscreen shopping to take the stress out of the process.
Below is a list of ingredients with the most potential to be harmful, according to EWG:
- Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate)
Hormone Disruption In Sunscreen
I have written at length about how the modern world makes avoiding hormone disruption extremely difficult. Our personal care products, makeup, household cleaners, laundry detergents, perfumes, and more can all play a role in hormone disruption, especially if they contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
While some would say, it’s a small exposure or there is not enough data to avoid, I’d caution you about this advice. There are not extensive studies looking at the combination of products that most of us use and the long term effect of these multiple exposures to tell us they are safe. I personally don’t feel comfortable advising people to take the risk under the assumption they may be safe.
You’ve likely heard conflicting information about sunscreen from different health professionals. The American Academy of Dermatology says that sunscreen is safe and most dermatologists will tell you the same. But The American Academy for Pediatrics (AAP) tells us that we should avoid potentially harmful chemicals like oxybenzone in children.
And then we see new studies coming out about certain chemicals found in sunscreen disrupting sperm function, specifically oxybenzone (also called benzophenone-3 or BP-3), avobenzone, octisalate (also known as octyl salicylate), homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate (or octyl methoxycinnamate), octocrylene, and padimate O.
Oxybenzone Hormone Disruptor
In sunscreen, one of the most notorious EDCs is oxybenzone. In one study, researchers showed that oxybenzone changed the mammary glands of mice. Additionally, exposure to oxybenzone caused permanent changes to the ductal density of the mammary glands.
Why the changes to mammary tissue? Because oxybenzone is estrogenic, meaning that it mimics estrogen. This means it can affect your breasts, reproductive organs and can have a negative impact on growth and development.
The FDA has called for more research into the effects of oxybenzone. So far, they’ve found that it may be absorbed into the skin at higher levels than previous data suggested. There may also be a risk in using oxybenzone during pregnancy, as it may cause harm to a developing fetus.
So, what’s the alternative? It’s not a step to skip – we definitely still need sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays.
Hormone Safe Natural Sunscreen Options
While many popular sunscreen brands contain chemicals we should avoid if we can, many hormone-safe sunscreen options will provide adequate UV protection without the possible damage to your hormonal health. Mineral sunscreen and plant-based sunscreen are two great options for hormone-safe sun protection. Bonus: Both these options are usually also reef-safe, which means that they will not bleach or damage our ocean’s living coral reefs and their ecosystems.
Mineral sunscreens (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) sit on the surface of the skin and prevent a portion of UV rays from penetrating. This type of sunscreen is typically safer for those who are trying to limit their exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Mineral sunscreens can also be more gentle than chemical sunscreens for children and those with skin conditions, like eczema.
Plant-Based Mineral Sunscreen
Plant-based sunscreens typically do not contain any animal products. (If a product is labeled “vegan,” it contains no animal-derived ingredients.)
Just because a sunscreen is plant-based doesn’t mean it is a mineral sunscreen, or a hormone-safe sunscreen. Some plant-based or vegan sunscreens can contain ingredients in the “to avoid” list above, without a trace of animal products.
Don’t Forget to Cover Up
Even when wearing sunscreen, using a hat and other UV protective clothing can help avoid excess or unwanted sun exposure. Seeking out shade or bringing your own umbrella to the beach can also help you get the sun you want when you want it and avoid it when you don’t. Most experts agree it is best to avoid the sun between 10 am to 2 pm, with others saying it should be avoided all the way until 4 pm due to the intensity of its rays.
And remember, just because you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean it isn’t making it’s way through the clouds and to your skin.
What To Look For In Safe Sunscreen
It can be difficult to figure out what makes sunscreen safe, but there are a few basic factors to evaluate before purchasing.
Active ingredients are those in a product that are directly involved in preventing or treating a condition. In a hormone-friendly sunscreen, examples of active ingredients would be zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as these are actively protecting the skin from the sun.
Inactive ingredients in sunscreens are not involved in preventing sun-related skin damage. However, inactive ingredients are necessary for most products, as they act as emulsifiers, binders, stabilizers, etc. Examples of inactive ingredients include aloe vera – which helps to soothe sunburn – and oils and butters – to help moisturize the skin and distribute the active ingredients.
Many of us need sunscreen while we’re swimming. It’s important that whatever sunscreen we choose has some measure of water resistance, so it doesn’t immediately wash off when we get wet. That being said, even if a sunscreen is water-resistant, you should still reapply frequently.
Broad-spectrum simply means that the sunscreen will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. Both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered broad-spectrum.
DR BRAD’s THOUGHTS
There is an easy way to look younger than your age, and I am trying to think of why anyone wouldn’t want to use this method.
No, it’s not some supplement or vanity project – you just need to look in the mirror and see yourself as a young person.
This is far more likely to help you practice good health habits than trying something that won’t work! Here’s a striking photo of someone who used this method on their face – but not their neck: And another image here of a truck driver: I am talking about protecting our skin from the Sun’s UV radiation – which has been proven by evidence so strong, that dermatology guidelines now suggest Sunscreen should be worn every day, even if you don’t plan on being outside for long periods!
There is one problem, though. There seems to be a trend lately where testosterone levels are falling among men. One possible cause for this might be exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in many sunscreens; these substances interfere with hormone synthesis and metabolism, among other cellular functions. In light of these concerns (and based on ample scientific research), we recommend mineral-based sunscreens over those containing other active ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
There is evidence that certain mineral-based sunscreens can adversely affect the brain and breasts in animals. However, there has yet to be human data to support this. Some people may be concerned about taking such a risk when selecting sunscreen, so I asked Dr. Michelle Wong – who runs a fantastic YouTube channel called Lab Muffin – for her suggestions. She suggested using Alta MD sunscreen, which I’ve started to use recently. Another concern some people might have with using Sunscreen every day is whether we are getting enough vitamin D from the sun if our skin is blocking it; however, supplementing with 1000 international units of Vitamin D daily should address this issue.
Additionally, I use retinoid cream at night and collagen peptides and Hyaluronic acid supplements to protect my skin.
The links above are affiliate links, so I receive a small commission every time you use them to purchase a product. The content contained in this video, and its accompanying description, is not intended to replace viewers’ relationships with their own medical practitioner. Always speak with your doctor regarding the content of this channel, and especially before using any products, services, or devices discussed on this channel or website.