A recent article appearing in Forbes magazine draws upon a peer-reviewed study just published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study, funded by the Silent Spring Institute, reports that an alarming number of chemicals found in personal care products don’t make it onto their lists of ingredients. The investigation included a surprising category —sunscreens and “alternative” sunscreens. The study says:
"Fragranced products – including air fresheners, dryer sheets, and perfume – and sunscreens, had the largest number of target chemicals and some of the highest concentrations. In addition to the labeled ingredients, alternative sunscreens contained up to 7 target chemicals that were unlabeled, including estrogenic UV filters. The alternative sunscreen with the highest number of target chemicals was a product marketed for babies, children, and sensitive adults."
Reading the study itself we find that some of the chemicals they target include phthalates (used to fix scents in synthetic fragrances) and UV filters such as benzophenone-3, aka oxybenzone, octinoxate aka octyl methoxycinnamate, octadimethyl PABA and 3,4 methyl benzylidene camphor. It is certainly true that these common UV filters show up in popular brands, and while they are generally listed on the label the study warns they may not be. In addition to unlisted ingredients another hidden danger lurks in the guise of chemical interactions. Risks multiply when common chemicals (especially when one is a synthetic fragrance) are combined: for example DEHP (a phthalate) in combination with fragrance can trigger asthma attacks and mimic estrogen, while a combination of UV filters like octinoxate and oxybenzone is implicated in creating a growing number of cases of photoallergic contact dermatitis.
The Silent Spring study points out the urgent need for much more stringent labeling standards in order to protect the health of the public and the environment. And while their tips on how you can protect yourself and your family in the absence of full disclosure in labeling are very helpful, I do take issue with their suggestion that the best way to protect yourself from the sun is to skip sunscreen and rely on hats and protective clothing. Most researchers agree that the best way to prevent chronic UV-induced skin damage is daily sun protection that includes sunscreen. UV rays and in particular UVA rays, the rays responsible for aging that are also implicated in skin cancer, are everywhere, all the time.
The good news is we can answer lead author Dr. Robin Dodson’s question in the affirmative. She asks: “Sunscreen could really become the poster child for the green chemistry movement. Can we engineer something that is not an endocrine disruptor and that still protects from skin cancer?”
Yes, we have, and it’s called non-nano zinc oxide. Non-nano zinc oxide does not disrupt hormones or generate free radicals (implicated in skin cancer formation), and effectively blocks UVB and UVA rays.
Here is what to look for on your sunscreen label:
In your search for safe personal care and sunscreen products avoid the chemicals the Silent Spring study targets.
Image via Viva Woman
Marie Veronique Nadeau founded Marie Veronique Organics over 10 years ago and is a nationally recognized formulator and beauty expert. She collaborates with her daughter, Jay Nadeau, physicist and bio-medical engineer, to carefully choose each ingredient in her products to address the causes of aging at the source. Marie holds a BS in Math and Chemistry as well as an esthetics license from Paris Beauty College. She is a mother of 2 and a grandmother of one. When she is not developing cutting edge anti-aging products, she can be found reading at her local library or foraging for mushrooms with her granddaughter.
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