What you need to know before slathering up
Heard of those sunscreen bans in Hawaii and Key West and thought "Well I'm never vacationing there so doesn't apply to me?" Well, turns out the chemicals in the ban that are bad for coral reefs may not be great for human health either. New FDA sunscreen guidelines could also change what active ingredients are found in sunscreen. Read more to find out how to get the safest sunscreen this summer. If you want a quick link to non-toxic sunscreens, here are our recommendations for best non-toxic adult and non-toxic baby sunscreens.
A refresher on the coral reef sunscreen ban: it's been making headlines recently because it highlights the unintended toxic effect of chemicals. Places like Hawaii and Key West (1) have banned the sale of certain sunscreens that contain two chemicals commonly used as active sunscreen ingredients: Oxybenzone and octinoxate. While they may protect from UV rays, oxybenzone and octinoxate have recently been shown to contribute to coral bleaching. Coral bleaching makes coral more susceptible to disease, which is really bad news since about a quarter of all marine life relies on reefs for food and shelter (2). So we know these two ingredients are bad for the environment, but what do we know about what they do to humans?
Turns out that the FDA is looking into this. Why new regulations in the first place? The original regulations were put into place decades ago when sunscreen was basically used just a few days a year (like during an annual family beach trip). Today we know sunscreen can decrease the risk of skin cancer and sun damage so we're way more liberal with our sunscreen application- some us even apply it every single day! There are also a lot more sunscreen formulations than there were when the regulations originally came out. So new formulations + changes in use = totally good reason new guidelines.
The most important takeaway for consumers from these regulations is that ingredients in over-the-counter drug products like sunscreen have to be considered generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) by the FDA (3). Currently, only two sunscreen ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are considered to be safe and effective. These ingredients work by sitting on top of your skin and acting as a reflecting shield against UV rays. And since zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are minerals, they're referred to as "mineral sunscreen".
Two ingredients, PABA and trolamine salicylate, are not considered to be safe and effective. The fourteen other active ingredients, including avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, need further testing and review in order to be considered GRASE. (3)
The problem with the fourteen ingredients in limbo (two of which are the same ones in the coral reef bans) is that we don't have enough data about them to say whether they're safe or not for humans. A recent study has shown some concerning characteristics though. Several ingredients, including avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, have been soak from your skin into your bloodstream… and stay there a couple days (4). We're totally not okay with having a chemical hang out in our bloodstream when we don't even know if it's safe. These ingredients can also be more irritating to sensitive skin, which is why dermatologists recommend mineral sunscreen for children (5).
We prefer the "better safe than sorry" route when it comes to active ingredients in sunscreen. Mineral sunscreen- zinc oxide and titanium dioxide- are the only FDA safe and effective active ingredients. They are also environmentally safe and won't damage coral reefs. AND they're completely natural. How awesome is that?! We found the 10 best non-toxic mineral sunscreens that are well reviewed and easy to find online or at the store, so pick one up before your next trip to the beach or sunny picnic in the park! We also have a great list of non-toxic baby and toddler sunscreens for those of you with little ones!