Category Archives: aerosol sunscreens

sunscreen, dangers, oxybenzone,

Sunscreen sprays, burns, dead coral and more: what we’ve heard in the news about sunscreens

blog image July 2016Things We’ve Heard About Sunscreen This Month:

Why is Sunscreen Bad for Coral Reefs?

 It turns out the UV filter Oxybenzone is hard on more than just our bodies, it can be absolutely devastating to the coral reefs that span our oceans. While deeply saddening , it’s not necessarily news. If you recall from our blog post from The Sunscreen Doc, click here to read, there have been signs up in Hawaii telling people to wash off their sunscreen from a long time ago. This photo was taken back in 2006.

Sunscreens Why is Oxybenzone so detrimental to the reefs? Oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant, meaning it’s detrimental effects are triggered by sunlight (making it an odd choice for a sunscreen ingredient). In very small concentrations, Oxybenzone was shown to disrupt the living larval forms of coral by reducing their motility, ossifying their exo-skeleton and causing its DNA to mutate. The overall effect was to exacerbate bleaching of the reef, something that is linked to rising sea temperatures, which is the ultimate death knell for the living organism.

Swimmers (but also all sunscreen users) should look for Oxybenzone free products but can also use sun protective clothing to reduce the amount of sunscreen they have to wear overall.

2nd degree burns on boy after using SPF 50 sunscreen

A mom in the UK posted pics of her son’s 2nd degree burns after spending 5 hours at the beach but after having religiously used sunscreens all day. The family had been using a popular sunscreen spray marketed especially for kids by Banana Boat. While there are multiple versions of the kids spray formula, we have found some versions that make it very clear as to what could have happened.

Banana boat ingredientsThis version shown here, has numerous potential issues with it (including the use of parabens in the non-medicinals). The most obvious issue is that it combines Avobenzone with Octinoxate, which is somewhat of a rookies mistake. It’s a well established fact that octinoxate degrades Avobenzone when exposed to sunlight. The end result is a sunscreen that loses the ability to protect against UVA as the Avobenzone degrades but then also against UVB as the octinoxate begins to deteriorate as well. Click here to read more about this well documented phenomenon. Fortunately, it’s not one that we see very often now so it’s astonishing to find it in a sunscreen for babies.

The fact that this sunscreen was an aerosol spray I believe compounds the problem and you can read more about that in the next section. This sunscreen also is just generally a poor choice due to the potential issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals with Avobenzone, un-encapsulated octinoxate, the varios salates and the parabens included in the non-medicinals. It’s all around a poor sunscreen but it’s all made worse by the fact that it’s marketed towards kids.

Aerosol Sunscreen Might Not be as Safe as you think

Finally, spray sunscreens currently exist in a nether-region in US regulation. The FDA has mandated as of 2011 that they would impose a ban on all spray sunscreens unless manufacturers could prove their safety. Spray sunscreens are still available until such ban is actually enforced but the concerns against their safety center around inhalation risk but also as to efficacy when it comes to applying them sufficiently and uniformly. Anecdotally, before my days of working at CyberDERM, I purchased a can of spray sunscreen and threw it in my purse to have on hand throughout the summer days. Unfortunately, the can leaked and pooled in the bottom off my silver coloured leather bag. After, quasi-melting my phone and I-pod (was back in 2010 and my beloved I-Pod Shuffle was toast!), the sunscreen also had stripped the silver paint of my bag. Most spray sunscreens use alcohol as the main solvent to solubilize their filters, which is how it was able to dissolve paint. It’s unsavoury to imagine that sitting on your skin all day.

sunscreen, sun burn, sun safety

What is Wrong with Today’s Sunscreens

Why is there panic and confusion in the marketplace?

The recent article from Vancity Buzz with the headline, “Neutrogena is the number one sunscreen to avoid, says the EWG” that we shared on our Facebook page has absolutely gone viral. It was shared over 480,000 times. I didn’t think much of it when I posted it- it’s essentially a reiteration of the EWG’s Annual Sunscreen Report from this past May. It’s also the same complaint that the EWG has been making year after year and it’s one that I agree with for the most part.

neutrogena, toxic, sunscreen

Image from VanCity Buzz Article, Neutrogena is the Number One Sunscreen to Avoid

For the first time a picture of some of the most popular sunscreens in the market appeared in a story with a big red warning sign. I know a lot of parents especially were crestfallen when they saw a brand they had been using on their kids since forever. Before starting work at CyberDERM, I’d used many of those so-called no-no brands my whole life (that is until an aerosol spray version leaked in my purse and took off the paint!). A lot of others were outright mad by the article, claiming it was fear mongering and based on pseudo science.

I thought I’d share my take on the article and a couple of other comments that I’ve seen with similar articles. I’ve been immersed in the world of sunscreens for 7 years now. I’m neither a scientist nor a physician and I’m obviously involved with a competitor’s brand so feel free to take my opinion with as many grains of salt as you see fit.

The deal with ‘chemical’ filters

I always put the term ‘chemical’ in quotation marks because this distinction makes technical people roll their eyes. Technically, everything is a chemical and not all chemicals or synthetics as most people are intending to say are bad for us. Other times, the term physical blocker is used to describe mineral based filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to differentiate from those that are meant to absorb UV light. That distinction is not purely accurate either since many of the mineral filters now do some absorbing and scattering of UV light.

Within our R&D department, we prefer the term particulate-based filters vs. non-particulate based filters. Particulate-based filters include zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, encapsulated filters that are larger than a micron, and Tinosorb S and M. Non-particulate based filters are most of the conventional ones that you would see in mass-market products and include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate (non-encapsulated version).

The EWG is exceptionally critical of oxybenzone. We’d argue that all of these filters have potential issues because they are smaller than the 500 Dalton threshold. Dalton is a measurement of something’s molecular weight and it’s well established that anything below 500 Daltons can enter through the skin into our bloodstream. For many people, they simply don’t want to use something that enters the body if they have the choice.

There is then the issue of whether these filters mimic hormones in our body. The answer is that there is no definitive answer at this point. It would be difficult to create a study that would give a definitive answer so I believe you have to fall back on your personal comfort level of risk. I would say that the argument that only small amounts are ever detected in human studies misses a crucial point. Dosage based arguments for endocrine disruptors don’t hold up since it’s also well established that dosage and effect are not linearly correlated in this regard. In fact, smaller doses of endocrine disruptors can have a disproportionately large effect, sometimes even larger than large doses. The WHO report from 2012 made this quite clear.

sunscreen, sun burn, sun safety

Sunscreens Can Burn You in More Ways than You think

Why would the FDA and Health Canada approve something if it’s not safe?

The FDA and Health Canada have both admitted that they are behind in reviewing the sunscreen monograph. Recently, in the US, the PASS coalition put the FDA in the hot seat for being a decade behind in reviewing submissions. The Sunscreen Innovation Act was passed in late 2014 and the onus was set on the FDA to make some timely decisions. The FDA instead has recently said that the new filters under review require a substantial amount more of clinical data to prove their safety. A part of the issue, they would like exhaustive studies to show that these newer filters are not absorbed into the body or pose any health risks if they are. They dismiss the real market use of these filters in other regulatory territories like the EU as not being sufficient enough.

I take exception with their argument on multiple levels but I also find it frustrating that they are willing to block new ingredients based on this premise, but they are not willing to review current filters by the same criteria. For some unknown reason, current filters seemed to have been grandfathered into acceptance and are past the point of further review- despite mounting evidence.

By blocking some of the safest and least controversial UV filters, like the Tinosorbs (which are very large particulate-based filters), the FDA and Canada are forcing consumers to use filters that aren’t as effective and with iffy safety findings. I also think it’s worth mentioning that the FDA and Health Canada have not put a complete ban on these new ingredients in question. In the US, L’Oreal paid for the very expensive process of getting one of their patented filters approved by the FDA. It’s just restricted for use by one brand for the exclusive use in their La Roche-Posay formula. (Side note- by expensive I mean hundreds of thousands of dollars). In Canada, you can find 9 formulas that contain Tinosorb S and M. These companies again though had to pay for an outside monograph review process (a process that is much cheaper than the US version, costing roughly $50-60 K, about 25-50 times more expensive than the normal approval method) to have formula specific usage of these ingredients. Therefore, it’s not to say that the FDA or Health Canada think these new filters completely unsafe that they can’t come into their respective markets at all- there is just a hefty entrance fee.

Finally, I’ve also seen mention that if a sunscreen has the seal of approval from one of the various dermatology or skin cancer organizations, doesn’t that vouch for their safety. Again, there is an issue with money. Most of these seals cost in the $5000-$10,000 range for licensing fees and the criteria are otherwise relatively lax. When it comes to specific review of UV filters, most concerns deal with whether something is an allergen. While oxybenzone and avobenzone are both considered allergens, they occur infrequently enough that it’s not considered to be a real concern. The idea of endocrine disruption isn’t taken seriously yet by these medical communities. I’ve heard word though that another, potentially quite explosive piece of research about some of these filters is set to be published in a very credible medical journal. We’ll see what it ends up saying and how it’s received in the next couple of months… Yes, that’s what passes for gossip around our offices- we’re the Gossip Girl of sunscreens. Really and truly though, I think it will shake things up so prepare for another bout of panic and confusion.

Thanks as always for staying tuned with us. Will keep you posted.

Best regards,

Sara

December-Blog-Image

Sunscreen Stories

This time of year at CyberDERM, we are always trying to push the message that everyone should be wearing sunscreen, although many of us are currently in the dead of winter.  It’s sometimes a hard sell- it is not on people’s radar as something important.  Hopefully, our pushes to educate people about the presence of UVA all year round and the need to protect your skin will change that. 
Simply Zinc Sun Whip- A Great Sunscreen
Shedding Some Light on What Makes a Good Sunscreen
Of course, then you hear horror stories like the aerosol sunscreen recall this summer that has recently been expanded by Health Canada.  Banana Boat’s aerosol products were linked this summer with users catching on fire due to a flaw in the valve distributing too much product.  This is always a bit of a gray area for us in writing about it- on the one hand we don’t like to bash our competition, that’s not in keeping with our philosophy about being a friendly company to do business with.  At the same time- we got into making sunscreens because of some of the flaws we saw in the products out in the market.  So for this month’s blog- we are going to share some of what we see as problems with sunscreens and how we tried to fix them in our formulas.  If you would like to take what we say with a grain of salt, considering our vested interest, we understand completely and there are no hard feelings!
Our own horror stories:
Like everyone else, I personally appreciate convenience so I will admit to having bought a can of aerosol sunscreen from the pharmacy 3 years ago.  I was going to the beach and I wanted something easy to apply to my legs (for my face, I still always use our products every day so that part is covered).  I kept it in my purse (new Michael Kors silver satchel) until I felt a wet spot on its underside.  It turns out that the cap had come off and sprayed most of the contents of the bottle into my purse. My phone was kaput but that is to be expected.  I was shocked though to see that the sunscreen had completely stripped the paint off of my bag!  I kept thinking this is meant to sit on your skin? Uggh.  Our chemist explained that a lot of the solvents used in these types of products to keep the actives in solution can be pretty heavy duty.  My thoughts though- are they meant to dissolve your skin? We had a client who shared a similar story.  She was an owner of an apple orchard and kept a bottle of spray sunscreen out for pickers to use on her deck.  She noticed though after a while that wooden floorboards of where people would spray their legs was starting to rot away. 
To me- those are cautionary tales.  We always talk about the dangers of chemicals like oxybenzone, parabens, other Dirty Dozen chemicals, and even avobenzone.  Sometimes though, the issues of chemicals being hormone disruptors, or creators of Free Radicals, or even allergens- all seem a bit abstract.  It’s not always clear how those issues affect us- sometimes you literally cannot visualize it until it happens to you in some form.  These stories on the other hand almost poetically drive home the message that you need to be careful about what you apply to your skin.  They make those concepts more real.  You wouldn’t spray paint thinner all over your body and so the idea of not using a product that dissolves metallic paint clicks for me. 
I also do not want to give the idea that it’s just spray sunscreens that are the issue.  Lotions can have similar issues and that is why you really need to take a look at what is in your cosmetics overall.   My litmus test is always- would I recommend this product to a pregnant friend?  We are so vigilant about what we put on our bodies when we think about how it could affect an unborn child.  If we thought that way every day, we would be living on the safe side with nothing to lose.  Without being preachy or accusatory, that is what we try to explain to people and hopefully it will click for more and more people. 
Go through the products in your bathroom and see whether they pass your test! Also feel free to share with us any of your own stories.
All the best,
Sara