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Is Your Organic Sunscreen Really Safe?

Not all sunscreens are dangerous, but many storebought huge brands and companies include things that are not conducive to your personal health or the environment.

A day at the beach should be relaxing and carefree. Sunscreen is at the top of the list of necessities to bring to ensure that a painful sunburn doesn’t ruin the fun for anyone. The last thing a sunscreen should do is cause harm to the skin and body or to delicate coral reef ecosystems. Many people reach for sunscreens labeled “organic” believing that automatically means they are a safe choice over mass produced non-organic options.

However, recent news and social media articles have exposed that even some popular organic sunscreens actually contain toxic substances that can be dangerous on human skin and elsewhere. Some news sources have even gone as far as saying that applying the sunscreen could be worse than overexposure to the sun. These toxic substances in the presence of UV light from the sun can form free radicals that cause oxidation (much like rust) and rapid aging to the skin and in the body. The process behind this formation of free radicals is often referred to as “chain scission” (explained in more detail below).

Depending on the source for economic data, sunscreen is at least a two billion dollar industry worldwide and growing. Translation: there are a lot of options out there and most everyone needs to use sunscreen at some point especially when spending any time outdoors. But not all sunscreens are the same and spending a few extra minutes reading the ingredients on the label could make a huge difference.

Look for a sunscreen like the one from Synchronicity, which is an eco-friendly mineral sunscreen based on zinc oxide rather than harmful chemicals that will break down into benzene and become dangerous to both humans and the marine environment. Synchronicity’s Full Spectrum Hemp Oil is a holistic option that protects the skin and body as well as the ecosystem.

Why are Toxic Chemicals Used In Some Sunscreen Products?

First, it should be understood that octocrylene (a source for benzophenone), oxybenzone, benzophenone, and avobenzone are commonly used active ingredients in sunscreen, meaning that they provide UVB and in the case of avobenzone UVA protection. These are being used for at least three very important reasons: They are transparent (clear) when put on the skin, they provide protection needed to meet Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for Sun Protection Factor (SPF), and they are inexpensive chemicals that mix well into oil and water formulations.

It's always important to do your own research in what is healthy for your body and the world around you. Sunscreen was the issue today, what will it be tomorrow?

What SPF Really Means

Few people understand what SPF actually means other than it’s a number, presumably the higher the better, to provide essential protection from the sun. Sun Protection Factor is a rating system developed by the FDA, which considers sunscreen an over-the-counter drug. It is a bit different for everyone in how it works because how fast the skin burns varies depending on how tan it already is.

A few other pointers when it comes to SPF are that some UVF radiation can get through no matter what the rating is, that the tests are based on liberal application of the sunscreen lotion, and that it needs to be reapplied at least every two hours. Bottomline: for sunscreen to be most effective be sure to apply enough and to reapply it if outside longer than two hours.

It is important to note that the SPF number does not indicate how long a person can stay out in the sun without getting burned. Instead, it indicates how much longer it takes untanned skin to redden with sunscreen compared to how long it takes to redden without it. For example, if it took 300 seconds for skin to burn with the sunscreen applied and it took ten seconds to burn without any sunscreen applied, then the 300 is divided by the 10 and the protection level is 30.

This method is used to determine the amount of protection from UVB rays only, however, and does not take the UVA rays into consideration. If a sun block or tanning oil is broad-spectrum, like Synchronicity’s sunscreen is, then further testing has been done for UVA rays although there is not yet a universally accepted way of measuring UVA protection.

UVA versus UVB Rays

The UVB rays are the shorter wavelength (200-320 nm) rays that are higher in energy and cause immediate burning. UVA rays are longer wavelength (330-400 nm) rays that cause more permanent damage leading to aging, wrinkling and eventually DNA mutation leading to all forms of skin cancer. So basically, the skin starting to burn is an early warning sign that one is becoming overexposed to sunlight (or any tanning booth lamps).

The last FDA monograph on sun block published in 2011 only allows up to SPF 50, but several large manufacturers continue to violate that edict. With an SPF higher than 30, including sunscreens that claim to contain only active organic ingredients, there is a false sense of security. In other words, the so-called organic actives are only effective when first applied and are always in a mixture that is 70% water or more. As soon as the water-based product (with oils and waxes added along with the active transparent organic sunscreens) hits your skin it evaporates. This leaves the chemical residues on your skin to protect you primarily from UVB and to some degree, if avobenzone is used, UVA.

There is no doubt that as soon as evaporation takes place and UV light hits your skin that the sunscreen from the container as tested in a laboratory, is no longer the same product from the manufacturer and therefore the SPF value diminishes quickly, as does the supposed afforded protection.

A Chain Scission Reaction

In addition, the sunscreens labeled organic that specifically contain the benzophenone, oxybenzone, and avobenzone will become different compounds as the UV light causes a chemical reaction to occur. The most common UV chemical reaction is “chain scission”, which similar to how it sounds, is a reaction causing the original compounds to break apart as if they were being cut by a pair of scissors.

UV light from our sun is a powerful energy source that not only can cause skin cancer but also is responsible for the life energy of our planet. Complete protection from chain scission due to sunlight or other artificial forms of UV light is impossible. All of the previous sunscreens were developed to provide some level of protection that immediately is reduced once applied and sun hits the lotion or spray or cream you have rubbed into your skin.

The chain scission of these organic sunscreens containing unwanted chemicals definitely leads to undesirable molecules. In the case of oxybenzone, benzophenone, and avobenzone, the chain scission of these molecules will lead eventually to the formation of phenyl ring compounds. For benzophenone, chain scission occurs at 254 nm, which is at the very lower end of the UV spectrum. A single phenyl ring molecule with no attachments and no substituents is known as “benzene”.

Here is what happens to oxybenzone (during “many-body dissociation” AKA “chain scission”) – the molecule at the bottom set of arrows are benzene and carbon monoxide:

Chemical breakdown of carcinogenic substances within sunscreen in a diagram.

Benzene has been a known carcinogen and teratogen for at least 30 years. So, the benzene source found by recent studies comes directly from one or all of these of the “benzone” molecules and potentially from the other non-active ingredients used to keep the sunscreen emulsions together.

In addition, the chemical compound octocrylene is commonly used in sunscreen as it acts as a filter protecting the skin from UVB radiation. However, it is a controversial product that has already been banned in the US Virgin Islands and Marshall Islands. This is in part due to its impact on the marine environment and that it is non-biodegradable.

There are other sun blocks made with you and the environment in mind. Try Synchronicity Hemp Oil's sunscreen.

Damage to Precious Coral Reef

In coral, octocrylene and avobenzone accumulate and can result in bleaching and death. This is what led to it being banned by a number of islands, potentially including Hawaii which introduced a new senate bill on March 9, 2021 according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, which stated that “people can protect their skin without harmful petrochemicals while Hawaii protects public and environmental health.” This follows a 2018 act which previously banned oxybenzone and octinoxate based sun block. The center has petitioned the FDA for a nationwide ban on coral-killing chemicals in sunscreens. Synchronicity has prepared an article devoted entirely to the damage being done by sunscreens on our ocean environments.

Popular Sunscreen Brands Dispute Issues

Most large sunscreen manufacturers that use it in products dispute any issues with environmental impact or harmful substances, saying concentrations are too low. However, these concentrations build up over time and have been shown to cause damage. Products from Garnier, Bioderma, LaRoche-Posay, L’Oreal, Coppertone, Banana Boat and Neutrogena were recently purchased from shops in the US and France by these news and social media sources – including some products aimed at babies and children – all containing either octocrylene and/or the benzones.

These products were tested for the study:

  • Garnier Ambre Solaire FPS 50
  • Bioderma Photoderm AR SPF 50+
  • Uriage Age Protect SPF 30
  • LaRoche-Posay SPF 50
  • LaRoche-Posay SPF 50 Spray
  • Cosmia Sun BB Creme SPF 50
  • Cosmia Sun SPF 50
  • L’Oreal Age Perfect FPS 20
  • Coppertone Kids Sport SPF 50 Spray
  • Coppertone Defend & Care Face SPF 50 Lotion
  • Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 Spray
  • Coppertone Sport Clear SPF 30 (#1 and #3)
  • Banana Boat Clear UltraMist SPF 30 Spray
  • Banana Boat SPF 50 Lotion
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 100 Spray
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 70 Lotion

Fresh Water Ecosystems are Also Impacted

Although there has not yet been as much sunscreen specific freshwater ecosystem research, chemical sunscreen compounds have been proven toxic to freshwater organisms in many ways. Oxybenzone is also an endocrine disruptor in fish. It can leave certain insects, like water fleas, unable to navigate their environment to survive which can affect the entire food chain and lead to ecosystem collapse.

Even in areas far from any ocean or reef life, it is important to choose an eco friendly sunscreen.

So, are Mineral Based Suncreens the Answer?

Based on this knowledge and the information presented here, the consumer now can begin to understand why mineral based sunscreens that do not contain any of the benzene chemicals described above are preferred. Twenty years ago, John D. Gordon patented the first and still only non-endocrine disrupting (no female mimicking hormones that are toxins), cytoprotective (protecting cells from becoming cancerous or pre-cancerous) and immuno-enhancing (boosting the immune system) sunscreens. This information was also published in a March 2005 Journal of Toxicology article.

The mineral based sunscreens with either titanium oxide (TiO2) or zinc oxide (ZnO) do not undergo chain scission as quickly as the sunscreens containing octocrylene and the benzone compound family. If and when these inorganic molecules are split by UV light, they do not form hazardous substances such as benzene.

There is, however, growing evidence that titanium dioxide provides a toxic substance when it undergoes degradation due to UV light. So, while it is in fact mineral-based, it still may not be an absolutely safe choice.

Many mineral based sun blocks also are made with water, which evaporates, and oil, which separates from the water and causes degradation of protection. Also, almost all sunscreens contain non-active toxic ingredients such as emulsifiers, lubricants, and other chemical compounds that can undergo chain scission and produce free radicals as well.

The sun provides an important source of energy for life. Ironic that something so prone to giving life we're protecting ourselves from and harming other life in the process.

Synchronicity Stands Out as a Safer Alternative

Synchronicity’s hemp oil infused, zinc oxide based sunscreen has taken what for decades lifeguards have applied to their lips and noses and made it into a safe, effective, proactive lotion that provides benefits that most other sunscreen products cannot offer.

First, there is no possible source of benzene or other free radical formation from Synchronicity’s all natural mineral based formulation. This doesn’t just protect the skin from harmful UV rays, it also prevents exposure to cancer causing free radicals that the sunscreens containing benzene chemicals can lead to. At the same time, this protects our precious coral reef ecosystems from damage from the same chemicals. No carcinogens, no recall.

Next, the Synchronicity sunscreen lotion is not water based. It is kosher vegetable glycerine based and so there is no evaporation once applied to the skin. The glycerine also stabilizes the entire mix so that there is zero UV light instability.

In addition, only food grade edible ingredients are used. While eating it is not necessarily recommended, it should go without saying this makes it extra safe to apply and be absorbed into the skin. It contains immune enhancing compounds to proactively protect from overexposure to the sun.

Also, it is rigorously tested and proven to contain no endocrine disruptors. There is no need to worry about troublesome female-mimicking hormones here.

Finally, it also contains 500mg of Full Spectrum Hemp Oil to provide extra nourishment to the skin, help calm inflammation, and soothe tired, achy muscles.

The other ingredients in Synchronicity SPF30+ Sunscreen Lotion were also chosen thoughtfully with only healthy, natural additions being selected. Organic jojoba oil, olive fruit oil, aloe leaf gel, beeswax with propolis, and vitamin E provide powerful antioxidants and nourishing moisture to support the skin’s health and vibrance even more. Grapefruit essential oil gives it a mildly pleasant aroma that is a welcome change from most sunscreens which are heavily scented.

With the relief of knowing that there are no chemicals that are toxic to the body and environment, plus the added benefits of the Hemp Oil — sit back, enjoy the sun, and relax to the max – just remember to reapply.

Published July 23, 2021
Author – Dr. Guerry Grune
Dr. Grune is a degreed chemical, mechanical, and materials science engineer, and chemist, possessing expertise related to chemical, mechanical, electrical, and medical products. He is also the Founder and CEO of 3rd Rock Essentials, a personal care product company. In addition, Dr. Grune also serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the MEM Program in the School of Engineering teaching courses involving polymer science, thermodynamics, and intellectual asset management (IAM) regarding green sustainable technologies, thermodynamics, life cycle assessment, and IP valuation for the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University.

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