Killer SunScreen


What is sunscreen and why do we use it?

The first sunscreen was invented in 1938 by an Austrian scientist named Franz Greiter. Sunscreen was created to protect the skin against ultraviolet radiation from the suns UV-A and UV-B rays, which is the the leading cause of skin cancer. Also known as SPF, Sun Protection Factor, which measures how well the sunscreen is at preventing UVB from damaging the skin. UV-A rays seep deep into the skin and increase reactive oxygen species that can damage the DNA. Meanwhile, UV-B rays only effects the outer most layer of the skin that increases direct photochemical damage to DNA, which mutates genes causing wrinkles and aging of skin.

Sunscreen combines multiple ingredients that help prevent sun’s ultraviolet radiation from penetrating the skin. There are two kinds of active ingredients in sunscreen, mineral and chemical filters. Chemical filters include: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

Chemical EWG Hazard Score Use in U.S. sunscreens Skin Penetration Hormone disruption Skin Allergy Other concerns References
UV filters with higher toxicity concerns
Oxybenzone 8 Widespread Detected in nearly every American; found in mother’s milk; 1-to-9% skin penetration in lab studies Acts like estrogen in the body; alters sperm production in animals; associated with endometriosis in women Relatively high rates of skin allergy   Janjua 2004, Janjua 2008, Sarveiya 2004, Gonzalez 2006, Rodriguez 2006, Krause 2012
Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate) 6 Widespread Found in mothers’ milk; less than 1% skin penetration in human and laboratory studies Hormone-like activity; reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies Moderate rates of skin allergy   Krause 2012, Sarveiya 2004, Rodriguez, 2006, Klinubol 2008
UV filters with moderate toxicity concerns
Homosalate 4 Widespread Found in mothers’ milk; skin penetration less than 1% in human and laboratory studies Disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone   Toxic breakdown products Krause 2012, Sarveiya 2004, SCCNFP 2006
Octisalate 3 Widespread; stabilizes avobenzone Skin penetration in lab studies   Rarely reported skin allergy   Walters 1997, Shaw 2006 Singh 2007
Octocrylene 3 Widespread Found in mothers’ milk; skin penetration in lab studies   Relatively high rates of skin allergy   Krause 2012, Bryden 2006, Hayden 2005
UV filters with lower toxicity concerns
Titanium Dioxide 2 (topical use), 6 (powder or spray) Widespread No finding of skin penetration No evidence of hormone disruption None Inhalation concerns Gamer 2006, Nohynek 2007, Wu 2009, Sadrieh 2010, Takeda 2009, Shimizu 2009, Park 2009, IARC 2006b
Zinc Oxide 2 (topical use), 4 (powder or spray) Widespread; excellent UVA protection Less than 0.01% skin penetration in human volunteers No evidence of hormone disruption None Inhalation concerns Gulson 2012, Sayes 2007, Nohynek 2007, SCCS 2012
Avobenzone 2 Widespread; best UVA protection of chemical filters Very limited skin penetration No evidence of hormone disruption Relatively high rates of skin allergy   Klinubol 2008, Bryden 2006, Hayden 2005, Montenegro 2008
Mexoryl SX 2 Uncommon; pending FDA approval; offers good, stable UVA protection Less than 0.16% penetrated the skin of human volunteers No evidence of hormone disruption Skin allergy is rare   Benech-Kieffer 2003, Fourtanier2008
6 other ingredients approved in the U.S. are rarely used in sunscreens: benzophenone-4, benzophenone-8, menthyl anthranilate, PABA, Padimate O, and trolamine salicylate

Effects of Sunscreen on the Human Body

To explain the chart above,

In two European studies by Margaret Schlumpf of  the University of Zurich in 2008 and 2010 she found sunscreen chemicals in mothers’ breastmilk, potentially exposing the fetus. In Schlumpf’s 2010 study she discovered that 85 percent of the milk samples she collected contained at least one sunscreen chemical.

In 2008 the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested a sample of more than 2,500 Americans and found that more than 96 percent of them contained traces of Oxybenzone. The researchers noticed that their participants had a significantly higher concentrations of Oxybenzone in their bodies during the summer which led them to concluded that the application of sunscreen was the cause.

But according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) not only is sunscreen a danager to humans it has also been reporter to be destroying our coral reefs.

Coral reef with butterflyfish

The NOAA said that” this is the third time in history, the world is in the midst of a global coral bleaching event.” When scientists conducted studies in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands they discovered that oxybenzone was extremely harmful to the coral reefs. According to The Washington Post a very small amount of oxybenzone is needed to harm the coral in fact they said there only needs to be “the equivalent of a drop of water in a half-dozen Olympic-sized swimming pools” to cause sufficient harm. Lead researcher Craig Downs said that from approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen ending up in the coral reef each year 80 percent of the coral reef has been destroyed!


What can we do to stop this?

Coral reef animals and plants have been a gold mine for finding new cures and medicine in the 21st century. So, the U.S. National Park Service strongly encourages us to use “reef-friendly” sunscreen that doesn’t contain oxybenzone to help preserve our coral reef.

Work Cited

5 thoughts on “Killer SunScreen

  1. Pingback: The Hidden Dangers of Chemical Sunscreen & What To Use Instead!! – FITFOODTEAM

  2. Pingback: The Hidden Dangers of Chemical Sunscreen & What To Use Instead

  3. Rory McGowan

    Being a person of exceedingly pale complexion, I find it somewhat inconvenient to go out of the way and purchase sunscreen just because it is simply “environmentally friendly.” Regardless, what do you think the solution to this pressing problem is? I think we can all agree that it is an imperative to protect and preserve our environment, but economic costs often get in the way of that. Would you propose better governmental regulation of the sunscreen industry? What are a few sunscreen compounds that work just as well as the chemical in question. I read somewhere that the Romans use to use pig fat as a method to protect against the sun. Would organic components be cheaper? Would they be more effective?

  4. Walt

    I never really thought about sunscreen having adverse affects. Growing up it was just sort of forced on us as kids because parents did not want us to get burned. I guess using sunscreen, just like anything in life, has its risks, and it is important to evaluate risk. As of now, however, I see my exposure to oxybenzone as only having soft end points. Currently, I could not find any articles that lead to any severe health deterioration or death as a result of the limited exposure to oxybenzone. The alternative would be not using sunscreen and getting burned. Getting burned is also a soft end point, but extensive exposure to the sun may cause skin cancer, which may lead to death. As of know, I would risk being exposed to oxybenzone to protect myself from the sun.

  5. Kaitlin Anita Caminiti

    This was an interesting aspect to the effect of sunscreen that I didn’t even know existed. I had always heard of people having allergic reactions as a direct correlation of certain types of sunscreens, but I had no idea that it was so damaging to sea life and even mother’s breast milk! How the hell did sunscreen get in there? The chemicals seeped through the pores on a woman’s breast? So, I did some research and found this article that goes into detail about the dangerous chemicals that come from inside a sunscreen bottle and it’s effect on our bodies.

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