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Mineral sunscreen vs chemical sunscreen.  What should I choose?

By Estival Life (8 May 2018; Updated on 16 May 2019)

On 1 May 2018, the Hawaii state legislature passed a bill that would ban sunscreen products that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate with effect from 2021. These chemicals are found in many popular sunscreens and are linked to hormone disruption in people and the bleaching of coral reefs and coral death.  The government of Republic of Palau also announced in April 2019 to be the first country enforcing this prohibition with effect from 1 January 2020. 

The harm of these chemicals are also found in Hong Kong.  A study by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) released in October 2018 has detected an extensive amount of sunscreen chemicals in seawater that could pose a risk to human health. The study also revealed that these contaminants are commonly found in the coastal waters of Hong Kong. 

Oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is detected in the blood of more than 96 percent of Americans. It is even found in breast milk. A recent study found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone levels had significantly lower total testosterone levels. Octinoxate is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, but more research is needed on this chemical.

“The Hawaii ban calls attention to the fact that the sunscreen market is flooded with products that use potentially harmful ingredients and provide poor UVA protection,” said Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook.

Most of the best-scoring beach and sport sunscreen products in the EWG Guide to Sunscreens are mineral-based, using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to filter harmful radiation.

Sunscreen is indeed a unique body care product: consumers are directed to apply a thick coat over large areas of the body and reapply frequently. Thus, ingredients in sunscreen should not be irritating or cause skin allergies and should be able to withstand powerful UV radiation without losing their effectiveness or forming potentially harmful breakdown products. People can potentially inhale ingredients in sunscreen sprays and ingest some of the ingredients they apply to their lips, so ingredients must not be harmful to lungs or internal organs. Further, sunscreens commonly include ingredients that act as “penetration enhancers” and help the product adhere to skin. As a result, many sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body and can be measured in blood, breast milk and urine samples.

Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms, mineral and chemical filters. Each uses a different mechanism for protecting skin and maintaining stability in sunlight. The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. A handful of products combine zinc oxide with chemical filters.

Laboratory studies indicate that some chemical UV filters may mimic hormones, and physicians report sunscreen-related skin allergies, which raises important questions about unintended human health consequences from frequent sunscreen application.

There’re also many misconceptions about sunscreen products.  Below FAQ list some common ones:

Q1) Is SPF no. proportional to the sun protection?

A: Nope! The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) was advocated to indicate how well your product protects you from UVB, which is the sunburn ray.  But it does not measure how well a sunscreen will protect from UVA rays, which are also damaging and dangerous.

根據美國疾病控制和預防中心的報告,二苯甲酮可引起過敏性皮膚反應,在美國超過96%的美國人的血液中發現它的蹤跡,它甚至在母乳中發現。最近的一項研究發現,二苯甲酮含量較高的青春期男孩總睾酮水平顯著降低。桂皮酸鹽是一種模仿雌激素的內分泌干擾物,但是這種化學物質需要更多的研究。

國際非謀利組織「環境工作組織」EWG總裁Ken Cook表示:「夏威夷禁令提醒人們注意,防曬霜市場充斥著使用潛在有害成份並提供較差UVA保護的產品。 經過數十年對二苯甲酮等成份的安全性測試不足之後,美國食品藥物管理局(FDA)在批准新化學品之前正在尋求安全性數據,但該行業仍未有所行動回應市場需求,現在消費者正在要求改變。」

歐洲消費者可以使用高效防曬霜,防止紫外線的傷害,如曬傷、皺紋、黑色素瘤和其他皮膚癌的發病率。雖然大多數美國防曬霜在正確使用時可防止曬傷,但它們不能有效防止低能量UVA輻射對皮膚的細微傷害。

EWG防曬霜指南中的大多數得分最高的沙灘和運動防曬產品均為物理性,使用氧化鋅和二氧化鈦過濾有害的紫外線輻射。

防曬霜確實是一種獨特的身體護理產品:消費者被指示在身體的大範圍上厚厚並經常塗抹,因此,防曬霜的成份不應該刺激或引起皮膚過敏,並且應該能夠承受強大的紫外線輻射而不會失去其有效性或形成潛在有害的分解物。使用者可能會吸入防曬噴霧劑中的成份,並攝取一些用於他們嘴唇的成份,因此成份不應傷害肺部或內臟器官。此外,防曬劑通常同時為「滲透促進劑」以幫助產品粘附於皮膚,因此,許多防曬劑中的化學成份會被吸入體內,並可以在血液、母乳和尿液樣本中驗出。

防曬霜中的活性成份分為物理性化學性,各使用不同的機制來保護皮膚並保持陽光下的穩定性。市場上最常見的防曬霜大都為化學性,這些產品通常包括以下二至六種活性成份:二苯甲酮(oxybenzone)、阿伏苯宗(avobenzone)、辛草酸鹽(octisalate)、氰雙苯丙烯酸辛酯(octocrylene)、甲基水楊醇(homosalate)和桂皮酸鹽(octinoxate)。物理防曬劑使用氧化鋅和/或二氧化鈦。少數產品將氧化鋅混合化學防曬成份。

研究顯示,一些化學防曬劑可能會模擬賀爾蒙,並引致皮膚過敏,這促使大家關注經常使用防曬劑所引致意想不到的後果。

大眾對防曬產品也有很多誤解,下面列出了一些常見的FAQ

Q1) SPF是否與防曬能力成正比?

答:不是!太陽保護因子(SPF)只量度產品保護你免受UVB的傷害,即是使你曬傷的光線的能力,但它並不能測量防曬霜對UVA的防護能力,UVA也具有破壞性和危險性。

Q2) What is the percentage of UVB that’s blocked from your skin compared with your product’s SPF value?

A:   SPF 2           means 50%       of UVB rays are blocked
SPF 4           means 75%       of UVB rays are blocked
SPF 10         means 90%       of UVB rays are blocked
SPF 15         means 93%       of UVB rays are blocked
SPF 30         means 97%       of UVB rays are blocked
SPF 50         means 98%       of UVB rays are blocked

SPF 70         means 98.5%   of UVB rays are blocked
SPF 100      means 99%     of UVB rays are blocked

 

Q3) How sunscreens work?

A: Organic / Chemical sunscreens absorb into your outer dead skin cell layer and use a chemical reaction to block UV rays from passing farther into your skin. (NOTE: The term ‘organic’ doesn’t mean natural, it means not mineral.) You feel this reaction as warmth, which is why organic sunscreens may make you feel a little extra hot in the sun.  The organic chemicals break down during this sun blocking chemical reaction, which is why sunscreen products tell you to reapply every 2 hours when you’re out in the sun.

Mineral / physical sunscreens sit on top of your skin and bounce the sun off, without a chemical reaction and without creating the warmth.  Mineral sunscreens include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Years ago, mineral sunscreens were white on the skin.  Today’s modern versions are made with high-tech formulations so that the mineral particles don’t clump together. Instead, they distribute evenly and invisibly over your skin surface. They also don’t pass into your skin and thus are good for people with sensitive skin and even babies.  Meanwhile they don’t readily break down when they block the sun so their sun protection last longer on your skin.

Remember, you have to put the correct amount of sunscreen on for this protection. Plus, organic / chemical sunscreens break down as they block the UV rays. Mineral sunscreens are structurally more durable and can last longer on your skin. 

UVA protection is also critically important for anti-aging and skin cancer prevention because UVA:

  • Causes the wrinkles and skin thinning that most people think come with age
  • Plays a role in causing skin cancers

Look for a product labeled Broad Spectrum to be certain you are also getting good UVA protection. Also find a product formulated with at least 5% or more zinc oxide because:

  • Zinc oxide is the only ingredient that blocks all the way through the UVA wave spectrum to 400nm, though titanium dioxide goes almost to 400nm too. 
  • So far the organic UVA sunscreen ingredients like avobenzone have stability trouble and may not last in the bottle and on your skin, and we don’t yet have ways to measure this.

Dermatologist recommended people to use 2 types of zinc oxide sunscreen products (one water resistant for sweaty and wet outdoor activities and one with a more matte finish for everyday use).

 

Reference: 

  1. Hawaii to Ban 2 Toxic Sunscreen Ingredients to Protect Fragile Coral Reefs (Environmental Working Group, 4 May 2018)
  2. The Trouble with Ingredients in Sunscreens (Environmental Working Group
  3. Wearing sunscreen daily is one of the most important anti-aging and preventative health moves you can do for your skin. (Dr. Cynthia Bailey Skin Care, 15 Apr 2018)
  4. HKBU study: Sunscreen chemicals harm fish embryos and could pose risk to humans (Thursday, 04 Oct 2018)

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