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Sun protection, our bodies - our environment! July 22 2017

At last!

Continuous "summer weather" hit Oslo with a joyous blast. A series of seriously warm waves, cool vibes and endless sunny days entice us to tan. Looking good and feeling good seem to be directly related to being in the sun. No wonder beaches and parks burst with people making the best out of open space, good company and generous sunny rays.

Even so, scientists have consistently proven that overindulging our spirit with intense solar exposure, may potentially lead to serious problems for our body. Those may vary from common ailments such as heat stroke, dehydration, and burnt skin to more severe, even terminal consequences. These facts cannot be denied regardless of your viewpoint. Nevertheless, big players in the cosmetic industry shamelessly disregard other important issues of concern. Some of them spend much cash on manipulating public opinion and even deceiving consumers who unknowingly protect their skin with a substance that, for example, damages body systems. 

The market today offers an overwhelming number of sunscreen products, each of them claiming all sorts of things (that are likely to be false or misleading). How do you choose a safe product for you and your family? How do you decipher the complicated labels with dozens of chemicals that all sound alarmingly unknown and potentially dangerous? A great place to start is Think Dirty, an app that allows you to scan the product’s barcode and gives you a list with all ingredients which are rated in three categories: neutral (0-2), half n’ half (3-6) and dirty (7-10). Each ingredient has a profile with alternative names, why it is used and health impacts.The app has a database of more than 750 000 different products with the option to add new items to it. EWG (another good source of information on safe cosmetics) points out “despite the growing awareness of the dangers of exposure to sun’s ultra violet radiation and a multi billion dollar industry, melanoma rates have tripled over the past three decades. “ These results only point to one thing: the majority of suns protecting products are not doing it’s job - protecting.

Luckily, European countries support stronger regulations in cosmetic industry and sun creams produced here tend to perform much better in tests than those coming from the US. Each year the Norwegian Consumer Council conducts a test followed by issuing a report on some of the most popular brands on the local market. Even though the industry’s high standards only 8 out of 42 tested products scored well on efficiency and safety. The rest either contained hormonal-disturbing ingredients or contribute to environmental pollution (and indirectly affect us in the long term).

 

So what should we avoid when we look for sun protection products?

Many of these substances can be found in number of personal care products, not just sun lotions, so be aware and read the labels.

Oxybenzone 

Widely used in sun creams, this substance act as a chemical sun protection agent. Because of its relatively weak UV absorption rate it is often used in combination with other sunscreen agents. Once absorbed by the skin and in our bodies, this substance acts like estrogen that can cause changes in sperm in men and may lead to endometriosis in women.

Other names: BENZOPHENONE-3, (2-HYDROXY-4-METHOXYPHENYL) PHENYL- METHANONE; (2-HYDROXY-4-METHOXYPHENYL) PHENYLMETHANONE; 2-BENZOYL-5-METHOXYPHENOL; 2-HYDROXY-4-METHOXYBENZOPHENONE; 4-08-00-02442 (BEILSTEIN HANDBOOK REFERENCE) ; 4-METHOXY-2-HYDROXYBENZOPHENONE; ADVASTAB 45; AI3-23644; ANUVEX; B3; BENZOPHENONE, 2-HYDROXY-4-METHOXY-

  

Retinyl palmitate

This is an antioxidant with controversial nature. Studies indicate that when applied on the skin in the presence of sunlight it may cause changes on biochemical and cellular level. In other words, it can lead to the development of skin tumors and lesions. Scary, right? Instead of protecting from cancer some products may actually be causing it.

Other names: AXEROPHTHOL PALMITATE; HEXADECANOATE RETINOL; RETINOL PALMITATE; RETINOL, HEXADECANOATE; VITAMIN A PALMITATE; AQUASOL A; AROVIT; OPTOVIT-A; RETINOL PALMITATE; VITAMIN A PALMITATE

 

Octinoxate

This compound is used for its UVB filter properties, however it has been proven endocrine disturber, effecting estrogen levels and thyroid activity. Long-term estrogen exposure is linked to increased risk of developing breast cancer; lowering sperm count in men and altering reproductive systems in children and fetuses. If pregnant avoid this ingredient.

Other names: ETHYLHEXYL METHOXYCINNAMATE, 2-ETHYLHEXYL P-METHOXYCINNAMATE; 2-ETHYLHEXYL 4-METHOXYCINNAMATE; 2-ETHYLHEXYL ESTER P-METHOXYCINNAMIC ACID; 2-ETHYLHEXYL METHOXYCINNAMATE; 2-ETHYLHEXYL P-METHOXYCINNAMATE; 2-ETHYLHEXYL-4-METHOXYCINNAMATE; AI3-05710; CCRIS 6200; EINECS 226-775-7; ESCALOL; NEO HELIOPAN

 

Petrolatum, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil

Byproduct of petroleum refining, this ingredient is widely used in personal care products for its moisturizing properties and long lasting shelf life. Sadly mineral oil or petroleum jelly can contain carcinogens which we would normally try and stay away from. Moreover it blocks our pores preventing our skin to absorb moisture from the air and release toxins. It can also cause irritations and acne. 

 

Homoslate

This is organic compound used as broad-spectrum UV filter in sunscreens. Studies show this ingredient as weak hormonal disturber that may break down to toxic byproducts when exposed to sunlight. Other concerns include: enhancing absorption rate of other toxic chemicals (such as pesticides) and can cause skin irritations.

Other names: 3,3,5-TRIMETHYL- SALICYLATE CYCLOHEXANOL; 3,3,5-TRIMETHYLCYCLOHEXYL 2-HYDROXYBENZOATE; 3,3,5-TRIMETHYLCYCLOHEXYL SALICYLATE; CASWELL NO. 482B; CCRIS 4885; COPPERTONE; CYCLOHEXANOL, 3,3,5-TRIMETHYL-, SALICYLATE; EINECS 204-260-8; EPA PESTICIDE CHEMICAL CODE 076603; FILTERSOL ''A''; HELIOPAN.

 

Synthetic preservatives, like parabens and methylisothiazolinone (MIT) 

These chemical substances are widely used in all sorts of cosmetic products for their antibacterial properties and the ability to extend shelf life of the end product. They are hazardous to the endocrine system, can cause allergic reaction, fetal impairment and neurotoxicity.

 

Synthetic fragrance

When you see this ingredient on the label does not mean one or two things. This can be dozens if not hundreds of different chemicals. The synthetic fragrances have links to headache, nausea, dizziness, skin irritation, and are associated with asthma and even cancer.

Other names: perfume

  

Other things to be aware of:

  • Look for sunscreen that protects from both UVA & UVB

Sun's UV radiation can be classified into three categories depending on their wavelength: UVA (the longest of the three), UVB and UVC. The latest should not be of our concern since most of it is absorbed by the ozone layer and it does not reach the Earth. That leaves us with UVA and UVB. The first one makes 95% of sun's radiation reaching the surface of our planet. Even though, these rays appear less powerful than the UVB they are a lot more frequent and wide spread. Not only are they spread equally throughout the day and seasons but also go through clouds and glass. That is why many people wear protection every day. For a long time, I thought that since I live in Oslo where winters lack sunshine I didn't need a sunscreen on a cloudy winter day. Wrong! As UVA penetrates deep into our skin giving us this sexy tan at the same time it contributes to its aging and wrinkling. 

When you get sunburn, that's UVB. The other layer of our skin - the epidermis absorbs those rays and takes the hit. If we get too much of them our skin turns red. They are responsible for damaging our skin cell's DNA and major contributor to skin cancers. 

  • Don’t be fooled by high SPF

If you wonder about products with higher than 50 SPF, I would simply avoid them. Here is why?

1. Insignificantly better sunburn protection

2. Poorer balance

3. High-SPF products may not really be high-SPF

  • Spray sunscreens

Because of their convenience, sunscreen sprays have become more and more popular. Easy application and even distribution on our skin matters, but it is not the only factors that should affect our choice. As consumers, we have duty and responsibility to make informed purchase decisions based on the best interest of all others affected by our choices. For that reason I would not buy protective products in spray cans. Here is why...

Back in the day, there were compounds that damaged the ozone layer, so these chemicals were outlawed in spray can products. Nowadays, however, they contain other, modern ingredients that get into the air. Some of them are known toxins, carcinogen, or engulfed in mystery. From the air, we and our kids inhale these molecularly small compounds while nobody knows how they affect our bodies. Like it was not bad enough that people we like get a dose of suspicious chemicals when we spray our skin, but scientists actually have not studied the short and long term effects of inhaling them.