True Cellular Formulas Team - July 19, 2023
Inadequate Sunblock Coverage
Vast Majority of Sunblocks Lack Comprehensive Protection
The Conundrum of Selecting Suitable Sunblock
The simplicity of selecting an effective sunblock is a thing of the past. With an overwhelming plethora of choices, each claiming to surpass its competitors in safeguarding skin against harmful solar exposure, consumers face a daunting decision.
Surprisingly, most of these sun protection products incorporate one or more of twelve chemical ingredients. These are the very ingredients that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has asked manufacturers to examine more meticulously before being classified as GRASE, or "generally recognized as safe and effective," according to recent research.
Eye-opening Insights from the Environmental Working Group
"Shockingly, only a quarter of sunblock products on the market provide extensive broad-spectrum protection without the inclusion of potentially harmful chemicals," stated Emily Spilman, the lead of the Healthy Living Science program for the Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG is a not-for-profit organization advocating for consumers and has been conducting exhaustive research on sunblock products for nearly two decades.
The findings from this year’s research, aptly titled "EWG's 17th Annual Review of Safer Sunblocks," were recently disclosed.
Positive Developments: Declining Usage of Oxybenzone
While the report raises serious questions about many sunscreen ingredients, it also delivers some good news for individuals and our planet. The study found that the usage of oxybenzone, a UV ray inhibitor linked to health issues in humans and detrimental effects on coral reefs, is consistently decreasing.
In the year 2019, oxybenzone was a component in 60% of all sunblock products examined by EWG. This figure reduced significantly to 30% in 2022. Fast forward to the present year, and this controversial chemical is used in a meager 6% of assessed products. These include not only sunblock lotions but also daily moisturizers and lip balms with sun-protective attributes.
Scrutinizing Sunblocks: EWG's Comprehensive Product Assessment
For its 2023 assessment, EWG scrutinized over 1,700 sunblock products for their safety and effectiveness. It then categorized the results based on usage. The list of best sunblock for recreational and beach application included 229 products that met EWG's criteria. For babies and children category, 51 products met the criteria, and 128 products were acknowledged in the best daily use category.
"The encouraging trend of manufacturers shifting away from oxybenzone is apparent. Still, a considerable segment of the market comprises products containing the 12 ingredients that warrant further investigation before being deemed safe and effective," emphasized David Andrews, EWG’s senior scientist.
Ranking Products: The Four Key Evaluation Categories
The assessment ranked products on a scale of one (best) to ten (worst) for compliance in four main categories: UVB and UVA protection levels separately, the balance between the two, and the stability of the active ingredients. The latter includes any propensity to degrade in sunlight or react with other components, thereby reducing their effectiveness.
In addition to these chemical ingredients, the FDA has deemed two types of mineral ingredients as safe and effective: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, although the EWG doesn’t recommend using titanium dioxide. Mineral sunblocks had previously been criticized for leaving a chalky residue on the skin. Still, numerous newer offerings have effectively addressed this concern, Spilman stated.
The Importance of Broad-Spectrum Protection
A key consideration when choosing a sunblock is broad-spectrum protection, which shields against both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are primarily responsible for causing sunburns, while UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, accelerating skin aging and contributing to skin cancer.
Unfortunately, many sunscreens offer inadequate protection against UVA rays. According to the EWG report, nearly half of the sunscreens on the American market would fail to meet the European UVA protection standards.
"Despite improvements, our research indicates a sizable percentage of sunblock products do not sufficiently protect against UVA rays," Andrews warned. "Adequate UVA protection is crucial to ensure comprehensive sun defense."
Sunblock Safety: From Human Health to Environmental Impact
Beyond human health concerns, the environmental impacts of sunblock usage are increasingly recognized. Ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate have been shown to cause coral bleaching, resulting in detrimental effects on marine ecosystems. Recognizing this issue, several places, including Hawaii and Key West, Florida, have banned the sale of sunblocks containing these harmful chemicals.
Such bans indicate a global trend towards more sustainable sunblocks, characterized by an increasing demand for "reef-safe" or "reef-friendly" products. However, consumers should note that these labels are not regulated and therefore do not guarantee the absence of all potentially harmful ingredients.
The FDA's Role in Ensuring Sunblock Safety
Amid these concerns, the FDA has been under increasing pressure to ensure the safety of sunblock products. In February 2019, the FDA proposed a new rule that would update regulatory requirements for most sunscreen products in the United States.
This proposal stated that only two active ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are generally recognized as safe and effective. The twelve other ingredients in question, including oxybenzone, need more data to determine their status. However, as of 2023, no final ruling has been made, leaving the status of these ingredients unclear.
Navigating the Sunblock Market: Advice for Consumers
For those seeking a balance between effective sun protection and safety, Spilman offers the following advice: "Choose products with broad-spectrum protection, SPF 30 or higher, and containing only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Avoid sunblock with oxybenzone, vitamin A (retinyl palmitate), and added insect repellent."
Despite the concerning findings of the EWG study, experts emphasize the importance of using sunblock. Both the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the Skin Cancer Foundation maintain that everyone should use sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection, has an SPF of 30 or higher, and is water-resistant.
As consumers grapple with the complexity of selecting the right sunblock, this study underscores the critical need for more transparency and regulation in the sunblock market. While significant strides have been made, there's a clear demand for products that provide comprehensive protection without potential health and environmental compromises.
The onus remains on manufacturers and regulators alike to ensure sunblock safety and efficacy for the benefit of consumers and our environment, urging us to redefine our approach to sun protection.
- Bracho-Sanchez, Dr. Edith. “FDA Proposes New Sunscreen Regulations.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Feb. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/02/21/health/fda-proposed-regulations-sunscreen/index.html. Accessed 15 July 2023.
- LaMotte, Sandee. “Summer Sunscreens for 2023, Ranked for Safety and Effectiveness.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 May 2023, www.cnn.com/2023/05/23/health/sunscreen-guide-2023-wellness/index.html.
- Sunscreens, EWG’s Guide to. “EWG’s 17th Annual Guide to Sunscreen: EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens.” EWG’s 17th Annual Guide to Sunscreen | EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens, www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/executive-summary/.
- D'Orazio, John et al. “UV radiation and the skin.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 14,6 12222-48. 7 Jun. 2013, doi:10.3390/ijms140612222
- US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Sunscreen Chemicals and Coral Reefs.” Skincare Chemicals and Marine Life, 1 Nov. 2018, oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/sunscreen-corals.html.
- Zraick, Karen. “Key West Bans Sunscreen Containing Chemicals Believed to Harm Coral Reefs.” The New York Times, 7 Feb. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/us/sunscreen-coral-reef-key-west.html.
- “Sunscreen Faqs.” American Academy of Dermatology, www.aad.org/media/stats-sunscreen.