Mineral Based vs Organic Sunscreens
In sunscreens, there are generally two options: organic and inorganic. The primary ingredients in inorganic sunscreen that are used to block harmful ultraviolet (UV) are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide these are safe sunscreen. On the other hand, organic sunscreens have formulas containing compounds with only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. "Organic" only refers to the type of compound, not the ingredients being naturally harvested as some may assume. The label "organic" can be misleading as people have positive associations with the word, assuming that it is the favorable option. However, the reality is quite the contrary. The ingredients in organic sunscreens are chemicals including, but not limited to, oxybenzone, benzophenone, benzene, and octocrylene, which are toxic to coral reefs, and known to be carcinogenic. Organic sunscreens are proven to be less effective than their inorganic counterparts and are even banned in some coastal areas that are protecting their reefs from coral bleaching.
The danger of Organic Sunscreens
The chemicals, like oxybenzone, in organic sunscreens are allergens and are known to cause irritation upon skin contact. More importantly, recent findings are showing that the chemicals are not safe, even in the small quantities that are present in sunscreen. According to opinions published in 2021 by European Commission, the limits for safe concentrations of oxybenzone and homosalate, two common ingredients in organic sunscreens, are 2.2% and 1.4%, respectively. https://health.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2021-06/sccs_o_244_0.pdf Popular cosmetic brands in the United States have reported concentrations for both of these chemicals over 7%, far exceeding what is safe for our bodies. Sunscreens with these compounds do not satisfy our needs as consumers.
Oxybenzone in sunscreens
Oxybenzone is a hormone disruptor, known to affect estrogen and testosterone production in women and men. This can lead to lifelong thyroid issues, as well as reproductive diseases. Furthermore, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), researchers are finding evidence that oxybenzone can be a cause of skin cancer. https://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/04_sccp/docs/sccp_o_159.pdf
Benzene in sunscreens
Aerosol sunscreen is popular for quick and easy application, but unfortunately contains dangerous chemicals, the most significant of which is benzene. The FDA and CDC have agreed that benzene is carcinogenic, making the rate at which the chemical is absorbed into the body extremely concerning. Since benzene is present in aerosol sunscreen, consumers are breathing in the nanoparticles that are diffused into the air, as well as absorbing it through the skin. Most of us have experienced first-hand the feeling of dizziness associated with breathing in aerosol sunscreens. Benzene also inhibits one's ability to produce red blood cells, which can result in anemia and leukemia.
In a study done by the Bureau of Chemical Hazards in Ottawa, Canada, it was shown that benzene applied to the skin in the form of sunscreen was absorbed almost twice as fast as benzene alone applied to the skin. Not only does aerosol sunscreen contain a toxic chemical, but it aids the process of penetration into the skin and bloodstream. Furthermore, the FDA has advised that benzene should not be present in any product in quantities greater than two parts per million (ppm). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9233379/ This is only a recommendation and is not enforced, allowing companies to far exceed these limits. Numerous products have been recalled due to high levels of benzene. https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/benzene/basics/facts.asp
This leaves users with one viable option for UV protection: mineral based (otherwise known as inorganic) sunscreens. With a light complexion, the white pigment in mineral-based sunscreen is less noticeable and blends with the skin, however, when used on dark-toned skin, it tends to leave an ashy, white cast. The only desirable aspect of chemical-based sunscreens is that they have a transparent appearance on the skin, which is ideal for users with dark complexions, however, the risks far outweigh the benefit of the sheer look. This raises the question, how can people with dark skin tones find a sunscreen that fulfills all of the following qualities: desirable appearance on the skin, safe for the environment, nontoxic to the user, and effective in blocking UV rays.
Choosing ingredients For Safe Sunscreen
One product will not work seamlessly for everyone, which is why Tejo recommends formulas based on specific qualities of your skin. This way, all users can be accommodated in the way that works best for them. It is generally a safe bet when the ingredients in a product are already produced naturally by our bodies. This is why hyaluronic acid, collagen, ceramides, and vitamin C are touted as some of the best ingredients for skin care, which is true. Another good source of ingredients to harvest them from plants or animals. We must still be wary of some of these, but it is not likely that they would have harmful effects on our bodies.
Iron Oxides as visible light protection and dark pigment
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are easily the most common active ingredients in mineral sunscreen, as they are proven to be extremely effective as UVA and UVB protection. Recent studies have found that iron oxides can successfully block visible light rays, although unfortunately, iron oxide has little efficacy in protecting from UV rays, which are most damaging to the skin.
One must not underestimate the value of protecting against visible light. According to Henry W. Lim, a board-certified dermatologist, exposure to visible light can result in darkening pigmentation, melasma (blue-gray patches on the skin), and even free radical production. While it is widely believed that artificial light produced by electronic devices is a harmful form of visible light, however, the visible light produced by the sun is thousands of times stronger and
more damaging. https://www.aad.org/news/board-certified-dermatologist-shares-how-visible-light-impacts-skin This proves how significantly visible light affects our bodies, and confirms the value of iron oxides as an ingredient.
When formulating a skin care product, engineers must be wary of allergens and negative reactions of the skin to certain chemicals. Fortunately, iron oxides have shown no undesirable skin reactions, even on users with sensitive skin. In most cosmetic products, synthetic iron oxide is used as opposed to a natural version because engineers can synthesize iron oxides in a way that regulates the shade of the pigment, creating more brown and black tones, rather than red and yellow tones. Additionally, tests have shown adverse reactions from the skin to the natural versions. Iron oxides are often contaminated with heavy metals. Since engineers can purify the synthetic versions, this makes them favorable. This is another situation in which labels are misleading in the skin care industry, as one normally associates "natural" with the "better" version of a chemical.
While titanium oxide and zinc oxide both have white pigment when applied to the skin, iron oxides have darker tones that can almost appear red, making them an ideal way to color match dark skin. the iron oxides paired with the other two metal oxides can make for a protective sunscreen with a less white tone, but rather a darker reddish-brown tone. Additionally, the opaque nature of iron oxides produces a look that blends well with the skin. Iron oxides can give sunscreen a glowing appearance rather than a dreaded white cast.
Chromium Oxide as a Color Corrector
Color theory is an important part of creating and using makeup products. To neutralize red tones, it is common to use a green-hued product to create a more balanced color. Chromium oxide is a mineral that produces a green pigment and is often added to a product containing iron oxide to neutralize the redness. Unfortunately, chromium oxide is an allergen. Despite this, it is still used in many color corrector products including concealers and foundations.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) uses a scale from 1 to 10 to evaluate the safety of various chemicals, with 1 being the safest. Chromium Oxide is listed as a 2.5, making it safe for skin contact in small quantities. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/701345-chromium-oxide-greens/ Fortunately, no skin care product is made with extremely large amounts of chromium oxide. Engineers use this compound in formulas to create SKUs that color match specific skin tones.
Cosmetic companies tend to counteract the inflammatory effects of chromium oxide (which is usually the main ingredient) with soothing components like squalane, hyaluronic acid, or squalene. Adding chromium oxide to a skin product formula allows for more options for shades to match unique skin tones.
Squalane as an Antioxidant Ingredient
Squalane is an up-and-coming compound in the skin care product industry. For clarification, squalane and squalene are similar, although squalene is more stable, resulting in longer shelf life. Like hyaluronic acid, squalane is anti-inflammatory and has healing properties for skin cells. Moreover, it is naturally produced by our bodies, as well as marine animals, so it is completely safe for consumers and the environment.
Squalene is a lipid naturally produced by the body, rather than a chemical created in a lab environment, it is a safe ingredient. Squalane is extremely light on the skin, making it a quality sunscreen ingredient.
Ceramides as Protection
Similar to squalane, ceramides are already produced by our bodies. Ceramides are the protective layer within the epidermis that prevent allergens and toxins from penetrating the skin. Like the iron oxides explained above, it is common for pseudo-ceramides synthesized in labs to be the versions present in skin care products because they can be purified of contaminants. There are twelve types of ceramides, which are all formed from different variations of the compound sphingosine. Sphingosine is the combination of an amino acid bonded to an unsaturated carbon chain, meaning that the chain contains double bonds, and is not "saturated" with hydrogens. The types of ceramides differ based on the form of the carbon chain ("form" is referring to the placements of the double bonds, and any branches within the chain). Different versions of ceramides are all likely to be found in skincare products but vary depending on the skin type the
product is marketed towards. For dry skin, it is common for ceramide EOS or ceramide AP to be present.
Not only do ceramides prevent impurities from entering the bloodstream, but they also improve skin health at the cellular level. Decreased ceramide levels are proven to result in dry and irritated skin, and even diseases like atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, and eczema. With aging, ceramides decrease naturally, which is why it is so important to maintain these levels through a proper, personally curated skincare routine. https://www.health.com/beauty/skincare/ceramides
It is important that vitamins and skin care agents can be absorbed into the skin, which is why anti-inflammatory compounds are used in companies with these ingredients to achieve the desired effects. With skin and substance absorption, there is a fine line. Agents are easily absorbed when the skin is hydrated, but also when the skin is damaged and inflamed. It is just a matter of the skin preventing the bad materials from entering the barrier, and aiding the good materials. Ceramides acting as the barrier help do just that.
The Bottom Line
Skin care ingredients work differently for everyone, but there are a few chemicals that consumers and producers alike should stay away from. Ingredients like benzene, oxybenzone, and homosalate are all red flags when it comes to sunscreens and other products. Alternatively, squalane, ceramides, metal oxides, and hyaluronic acid are all safe and beneficial components.