Tag Archives: best sunscreen

sunscreen, sunburn

When Your Sunscreen Burns You

When Your Sunscreen Burns YouScreen Shot 2017-05-31 at 12.32.18 PM

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 12.32.10 PM

Solar Simulator Estimated SPF of Sunscreen with the above actives

Editor’s Note: Since this post’s original publication, Canada has also been reeling from several incidences of infants receiving severe 2nd degree burns while using sunscreens specifically marketed for children. In looking at one of the product reported, Banana Boat Kids Free SPF 50+, it fortunately does not have some of the red flags that I have seen in other children spray sunscreens like alcohol and oxybenzone.  My quick assessment of the product leads me to suspect that it’s unlikely to be a true SPF 50+ with ingredients of 3% avobenzone, 6% octocrylene and 10% homosalate.  In looking at the solar simulator, a helpful on-line tool for estimating SPF and the UVA protection factor, this ingredient load would give an SPF of 15-17.  I would also consider whether the avobenzone was fully stabilized from photo-degrading (i.e. breaking down in the sun) by the octocrylene.  Finally, spray sunscreens are always problematic because you can just never be sure that you are applying adequate amounts evenly.  I understand they are convenient for children (I have a wriggly toddler so I REALLY understand) but stay tuned for some tips for applying sunscreen and providing the best protection against the sun for young children in our next blog post.

In today’s digital age, it’s common place for alarming stories to bubble up and go viral, typically with the pictures to match.  Pictures of bad sun burns can sometimes make for fun Buzzfeed columns but when children are involved and their burns are significant, the stories are heartbreaking.

The news cycles in Australia and New Zealand are replete right now with the story of a brand of sunscreen manufactured for their skin cancer council called Peppa the Pig.  This was a brand of sunscreen especially marketed towards kids so the several pictures of young children with 2nd degree burns were shocking to everyone.   Many questioned- how is this possible?

We source our zinc oxide from Australia and in our minds, we always imagined it to be the land of sunscreen.  You can imagine the need for it.  It’s one of the few places in the world with a predominantly fair population with never ending and intense sun.  I was surprised then when I was corresponding with a beauty e-commerce owner in Australia about what she felt was the complete lack of good options.  She said they also faced the same issue with consumer confusion.  Many were starting to get the message that they needed to wear sunscreen every single day but most stumbled in trying to decipher what to use.  So many people were still getting caught in the trap of relying on the front of the box where their only real cue for information remains the SPF.  As we’ve stated many times (here and here), SPF can be a misleading piece of information, especially if it’s the only piece of information you are looking at.  The real source of information remains the ingredient list, however, I concede that is a daunting task to wade through complex chemical names and percentages (if available!) even for professionals.  We continue to use a tool called the Sunscreen Simulator- it’s an online tool created by a provider of sunscreen filters that allows you to graphically see what your protection looks like.  It’s not perfect but it’s one of the few tools we have.

In taking a cursory look at the family of Peppa the Pig products, they do contain some ingredients with questionable photo allergy data.  Encazamene is a filter that we do not have here in North America. There are studies that show it has potential issues with photo-allergy.  We also would never use it in our formulations as it’s a small particle sized filter that can enter the body.  The products also contained Avobenzone, which is ubiquitous in the market.  It also has a small risk of photo-allergy (about 1% in the general population) but we also would never use it since it can enter the body.  Moreover, research is mounting about its potential as a serious endocrine disruptor with a similar profile as oxybenzone. Click here to read more about that.

The Peppa the Pig situation prompted the very understandable consumer reaction of calling for more regulation.  This incident does represent a failure on the part of regulatory bodies. However, it’s not an issue of lack of regulation but one of focusing on the wrong pieces of information.  In an ideal world, we would have a global standard for sunscreen regulation.  We wouldn’t have the current situation where some countries had better access to better sunscreen filters than others.  We would settle on a robust standard for measuring the UVA protection of a sunscreen and would represent that in a meaningful and clear way on the label for sunscreens.  We would find a better test for measuring SPF that does not allow manufacturers to ‘game’ the test and falsely inflate their SPF .  We would review every single filter, both old and new, from an integrated medical perspective.  In short, we would look at its effectiveness but also at its potential impact on our health, including hormonal health and the environment.  We’d use the precautionary principle to say that if an ingredient had significant concerns associated with it- that would be enough to call for a suspension of use.  Especially, as there are many ingredients that do not have controversy with them and are effective.

The secondary cost of these incidences remains that consumer faith gets shaken in products that are meant to protect.  The confusion leads many to just abandon the use of sunscreen altogether.  It’s an unfortunate reaction that would only lead to more potential for damage.  Education and advocacy remain our only tools and engaging through our professional communities our means for spreading the word.

We’d love to hear your take on this so please leave us your thoughts in the comment section.

All the best,

Sara

Simply Zinc, Every Morning, CyberDERM Sun Whips

Skincare Tips from Maddy

Maddy Showing Off Her Sun Whip.

Maddy Showing Off Her Sun Whip.

If you haven’t heard, Maddy Mackenzie is our Sun Whip ambassador, uber athlete and sprint kayaking star.  This month we hear from her on her skincare tips and more.

About Madison Mackenzie:

Age: 20

From Chelsea Quebec with the passion, ambition, and determination to one day become the fastest female sprint kayaker in the world. As a member of the Senior National Team of Canada and a Elite athlete of the Quebec Provincial Team her eyes are set on gold at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Q & A with CyberDERM

Q: Take us through your day to day skincare routine as an athletic on the waters.

A: In the morning I use CyberDERM’s Every Morning Sun Whip before I head out to train. After my morning training I head to the gym in the afternoon which I then go back out to the waters for a second time. Since I train twice a day outside, I would reapply a SPF with the Simply Zinc Sun Whip to ensure I’m always fully protected throughout the duration of my day.

Q: Sunscreen seems to be a huge part of your skincare regimen, why so?

A: Absolutely! I take my skin protection very seriously. Lucy, a dear friend and a previous coach for my training was diagnosed with Melanoma. After her passing away, I won the Panera Games under Lucy’s name, she is someone incredibly inspiring and will always be close to my heart. Sunscreen is something that is crucial to apply and its part of leading a healthy lifestyle which is why it is a key product in my skincare routine.

Q: If you could tell your younger self or anyone out there in your generation one thing about skincare, what would it be?

 A: That a tan isn’t that important.

Q: Your skincare Faves:

A: Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 25 and Simply Zinc Sun Whip SPF 30

Q: Your skincare Ethos:

A:  Taking care of your body and skin is part of self love and self care.

 

 

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.

sunscreens, fertility, male sperm

UV Filters Interfere with Human Sperm and More Health Implications of EDC’s

New Study Shows the Health Implications of UV Filters on Human Sperm

Our company founder and my father Dr. Denis Dudley has been voicing his concerns about the role of some UV filters and other potential endocrine disrupting chemicals since we first started making sunscreens back in 2008. Anyone who has ever met him (in the hallways of our sister dermatology clinic, in airports, drug store aisles or when sitting by the beach) can vouch for how passionate he is about the role of sunscreens and their impact on our health and environment. I think this passion partially stems from a little bit of frustration and a whole lot of being perplexed. The argument against using certain filters seems so practical, reasonable, and intuitive and yet it’s not very well received by many medical professionals, regulatory agencies and academics. These critics point to a dearth in rigorous science but as my father has pointed out- a rigorous experiment would involve applying these products every day across generations to see their full potential effect and how ethical is that? Continue reading

UVB sunscreen

Can Using a Sunscreen Be Worse than Using a Tanning Bed? The Health Implications of a UVB Sunscreen.

For the month of April, we are featuring a guest blog written by our company founder, Dr. Denis Dudley on the health implications of using a UVB sunscreen.

Many of us are well aware of the dangers of using a tanning bed and certainly a dermatologist would never recommend using one.  However, Dr. Dudley investigates a recent study that shows using an unbalanced sunscreen might do even more damage.  So how do you protect yourself and your loved ones?

Click here to find out more.

oxybenzone, beach, sunscreen

9 Reasons Why Oxybenzone Might be One of the Most Dangerous Chemicals in Your House

For the month of December, the Sunscreen Doc is our guest poster on why the chemical Oxybenzone might be one of the most dangerous chemicals in your life.  Click here to read the full text of the blog.

How to best tell if your zinc sunscreen is safe.

Response to “Natural” Sunscreen Controversy

How to best tell if your zinc sunscreen is safe.

How to best tell if your zinc sunscreen is safe.

The internet has been on fire, again, this summer with the recent controversy over The Honest Company TM’s specific ‘natural’ zinc oxide sunscreen.  Out of respect for them as a competitor, we won’t speak to their specific case but we felt it was important to address the issue as it balloons out to others relating to sunscreens.  We’ve been hearing a lot of “are ‘natural’ sunscreens safe?” and general questioning of zinc oxide based sunscreens.  If you read our blog consistently then this might contain some repetition but we felt we had to put our view point out there and address some of the inaccuracies that are flying about.

Issue #1: What does Natural Mean?

This has always been a thorny issue- we don’t actually claim all-natural on our products or really emphasize this in our marketing.  Zinc oxide is a chemical- it’s true.  The zinc oxide found in sunscreens has been processed considerably for very important formulation based reasons.  Particle size, distribution, and the material it’s dispersed in are addressed in a lab and not in nature.  However, their safety stems from the fact that they are considered large particle based filters that sit on the surface of the skin.  Even nano forms of skin are too large to be absorbed by healthy, intact skin and studies have repeatedly confirmed that even on damaged or broken skin, they remain within the upper dead layers.

Zinc oxide is sometimes referred to as a physical filter but even this is not completely accurate.  Micronized and nano sized zinc actually reflect light (i.e provide physical protection) and absorb and scatter UV light (provide a chemical type of protection).  Truly accurate terms would be inorganic (from your days of highschool chemistry not related to environmental claims like in organic agriculture) or particulate based filters.

Issue #2: Is Zinc Safe? Is it Effective?

Zinc’s safety comes from the fact that it’s still the only filter in North America that can provide the most complete broad-spectrum protection against both the UVB (burning rays) and UVA (aging rays, both UVB and UVA cause cancer).  There are other filters world-wide which provide broad-spectrum protection (hello Tinosorbs!) but they are not approved for mainstream use in the US and Canada.

Until then, zinc is the only filter that can provide complete protection but only if used in a high concentration. The maximum allowable in North America is 25%-  and there is a big difference between a formula that has 22% vs. 9%.  The more zinc the better protection.

Issue # 3: What Other Factors can Affect Protection?

Formulating a good sunscreen is actually quite technical and is complicated.  Factors like pH can affect whether the zinc is in its active form- a formula with too low pH can actually render the zinc oxide inert.  Dispersion plays a role.  Zinc oxide can absolutely be dispersed so that it’s evenly and uniformly distributed within a formula.  There are some brands that require customers to shake or knead a product- these formulas will show separation otherwise.  You know your formula has separated when clear oils burst from the tub or packaging and the white zinc comes out separately.  In our minds, that shows product instability and is not a good thing.  Our formulas stay emulsified over the course of their shelf life, which ensures that you are getting uniform amounts of zinc oxide with every application.

Issue #4: How are Zinc Oxide sunscreens tested?  

In Canada, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens are regulated by the Health Canada division of the Natural Health Products Division.  They are regulated differently than the sunscreens that include the other filters but these regulations deal more with manufacturing practices.  The Good Manufacturing Practices for Natural Health Products are quite sensible and in fact Health Canada has stated that the practices for the other type of sunscreens might be too excessive and actually blocking innovation in the industry (which impacts Canadians ability to access the best and latest in sunscreen innovation).  In Canada, a sunscreen with a Natural Health Number must with every batch produced show that they contain the amount of active ingredient as per their label and that they are free from bacterial growth.

Issue #5: How is their SPF tested?

In terms of SPF, before a sunscreen is approved (i.e. before it gets to production phase), a company has to submit results from the FDA standardized method of SPF testing.  This is true of all sunscreens that are approved for sale in Canada, irregardless of the active ingredient found within them.  SPF tests are done on human volunteers since there is no currently accepted standard for measuring SPF in-vitro (i.e.in a lab, normally using acrylic plates, not people and not animals).  Hopefully, this will change one day, as you could argue there are ethical issues with irradiating humans.

However, while this SPF test is required and standardized, that does not mean that it’s a perfect test by any means.  We’ve repeatedly argued that many labels simply do not make sense in terms of their reported SPF’s.  There is a SPF type of arithmetic that is widely accepted in the industry.  If the SPF is seemingly too high for the amount of active that is within the product then you can know for sure that some formulatory chicanery has taken place.  These SPF manipulations are allowed within the standard protocol of testing (i.e. the company is not lying about their results)- it’s just that these results are the product of gaming the test.

Briefly, SPF tests rely on the measurement of redness produced within the skin.  When compared to a standardized formula, a sunscreen with a low SPF will still allow for redness to be created in the human volunteers skin after being irradiated with UV light.  A higher SPF in theory would prevent more redness from appearing.  Unfortunately, you can alter this response by including anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants.  For example, aspirin reduces our body’s natural response to become red when exposed to UV light, which is why you take it if you have a sunburn.  However, it does not prevent or repair damage done.  It just takes away the biological marker that tells us that damage has been done.  There are plenty of anti-inflammatories that can be considered natural- for example the derivative of chamomile.  Anti-oxidants do provide some repair in addition to redness reduction but they don’t prevent damage like a typical sunscreen filter.

If you are worried that your SPF might be artificially inflated, you can use the chart below to do your basic SPF calculation.  A very well-formulated sunscreen will provide protection towards the higher ranges but there is very little to no chance that an active would produce any more.  In short, if your sunscreen has 10% or less zinc oxide and no other active ingredients listed, it’s unlikely to be a true SPF 30 and most likely used anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants in their non-active ingredients to artificially boost the SPF during testing.

The chart below shows the theoretical maximum # of SPF units that 1% of any active could possible deliver.  These are theoretical maximums and real life figures could be lower.  As an example, a sunscreen that has only 10% zinc oxide can in theory have a maximum true SPF of 16 (10 x 1.6).  However, if you were to add 7.5% of titanium dioxide (a filter that protects mostly against UVB and a little UVA), your new true SPF could in theory be an SPF 35.5 ((10 x 1.6)+ (7.5 x 2.6)).

Filter Max. # of SPF Units per 1% of Active
UVB
Octinoxate 2.8
Homosalate 1.5
Titanium Dioxide 2.6
Octisalate 1.6
Oxybenzone 2.3
Octocrylene 2.1
UVA
Avobenzone 1.9
Zinc Oxide 1.6
Tinosorb M 2.2
Tinosorb S 3.1

Hopefully, this will begin to provide some explanation for some of the controversy going around right now.  We haven’t even touched on UVA protection, safety of ingredients from an endocrine disruption point of view, issues with regulation or third-party seals like the CDA logo.  We regularly post about sunscreens though so if you are interested, I’d recommend staying tuned each month.  Until then, let us know what you think and feel free to write in with questions.

All the best,

Sara

botox, cosmetic, beauty

Doing the Math When It Comes to Beauty Interventions

botox, cosmetic, beauty

What Can We Expect from Beauty Interventions?

How much improvement can you really expect from a cosmetic? How many years should you shave off your appearance with regular use of something like a facial filler or a regular IPL?

In my years running a cosmetic and OTC (sunscreens are considered drugs in Canada and the US), I’ve developed a rough personal metric for how I evaluate a product or active ingredients level of effectiveness. I’ve also worked in proximity to our sister dermatology clinic and have a rough short hand for what people can reasonably expect for any of the numerous options out there. I’ll go through some of the possible options below- when I say % of improvement that can be expected, I generally mean how much do the visible signs of aging like wrinkles, laxity, pore size, dryness, discolouration seem to improve from before to after use. In terms of how this % of improvement translates into actually visibly looking younger- it gets to be an even less exact science. Having said that though, while it’s not exact it seems intuitive and I’m betting something that most people if they were forced to quantify could agree on.

A Caveat about Prevention

None of these metrics speak to prevention because how do you quantify something that didn’t happen? It would be impossible and yet prevention is invaluable and one of the main reasons we go to these great beauty lengths.

Anti-Aging Beauty Intervention Degree of Intervention and Interval of Use Reasonable % of Improvement that can be expected Translation into Years of % Improvement
Cosmetic Minimal intervention/Daily Use 10-30% 0-3 years
OTC/Prescription Skincare Minimal to Moderate/ Daily Use 20-35% 1-4 years
Spa based Treatment (facials, microdermabrasion, mild peels, IPL) Minimal/ Seasonal 10-30% 0-3 Years
Medical Based Light Treatment Moderate/ 1-3 x sessions up to annual or seasonal use for maintanence 30-50% 3-5 years
Botox and Fillers Minimal-Moderate/Seasonal or Annual use for maintenance 30-60% 3-7 years
Medical Based Light Treatments Intensive/ 1-2x per lifetime 50-85% 7-10+ years
 

Cosmetics and OTC/Prescription Skincare

When I’m researching a new active to potentially formulate with, I reasonably expect that within 2-3 months of regular use, a customer will see roughly 20-30% improvement of whatever I’m trying to target. A bare bones moisturizer will still always help minimally, let’s say 10% or less- hydrated skin looks better than dry skin. However, a really great cosmetic means that a customer should actually see a noticeable difference in their skin- enough that someone might remark, “Hey, what have you been using? Your skin looks nice” or something to that effect. They might not be able to pinpoint exactly what is different but something catches their attention. I’d say you can expect a slightly more pronounced effect with OTC or prescription based skincare but you typically will also have more side effects to manage like irritation. Proportionate pain still equals proportionate gain.

Spa Based Treatments

I’m not meaning to malign spa-based treatments like facials, microderms or light peels by saying they have comparable effects to daily use of cosmetics. It just stands to reason that something you might have done in an hour treatment, even if done 3-4 times per year should have relatively similar effects to a less potent but daily treatment. Spa treatments also have the added value of relaxation, which is inestimable in its worth.

Medical Based Light Treatments

Fraxel Duo, sun damage, laser, cosmetic

Before and After with Fraxel Duo to improve sun damage

I’m lumping in a wide range of light based treatments into one category. Most of these will have some amount of downtime associated with them- from a day or two of looking a little nightmarish to 2 weeks plus. Some will use them as an intervention based treatment- for example the 45 year old woman who wants to clear up significant sun damage. Normally, this requires a more aggressive treatment plan but then with a good skincare plan in place (including sunscreen) minimal intervention afterwards will be needed. Some will start earlier and they will proceed with less intervention but will keep it up over their lifetime for maintenance. Then again as my mom is fond of saying- it’s all maintenance after 40.

You can get some nice and noticeable results from the less aggressive approaches to some real wowzer ones that absolutely look like you’ve Benjamin Buttoned back five years.

Botox and Fillers

botox, fillers, Soft Lift,

Before and After Soft Lift TM (combination of Botox TM and Injectable Fillers)

Botox and fillers on their own or in combination with something like the Soft Lift TM technique can produce some results with real impact with less downtime, which is why they are so popular. Of course, they can have the reputation for making you look like a Real Housewife Of … with bizarre contortions of lips and puffed up cheeks. I’ve never thought that was how they are intended to be used. You should still look like you.

Medical Based Light Treatments- Full Resurfacing

wrinkles, anti-aging, sun damage, laser procedures

Before and After Full Resurfacing

I thought this one deserved its own category since it’s still the most jaw dropping but also most intense treatment on the block. Full Resurfacing is more art than pure science so should only be done by a very skilled professional. There is also significant downtime and post-care and you need someone with experience to guide you through it. I call this procedure though the magical eraser because it is intended to buff out the deepest of wrinkles and photo-damage. We’ve had women in their 70’s+ have this procedure done and you want to do a little communal dance with them after recovery because they really do look 10-15 years younger.

The End Goal- Being Ageless

There is a reason I named one of our most popular Regimen Packages, Be Ageless- in mind my it’s what we are all after and I mean this from a purely superficial and shallow way. I won’t even attempt to discuss the importance of an ageless soul or mind- that is for theologists and philosophers far smarter than me to tackle. I mean from a purely looks-based assessment we still all want to get to the point were we transcend age. It becomes about more than shaving off years. I don’t think anyone wants to look twenty when they are fifty. When you look at women like Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Halle Berry, you can’t pinpoint their age and you don’t care to either. How do you get to be ageless? There is a magic mix of genes, lifestyle, prevention but probably some degree of the above beauty interventions too. Sometimes a lifetime of great skincare will do the trick! If you have your magic mix, let us know in the comments and share your secrets!

All the best,

Sara

pregnancy, sunscreen

Sunscreen and Pregnancy

For those who don’t know our company backstory, CyberDERM was created by one of its founding physicians to make sunscreens that were safe enough for pregnant women to use every day. The story goes that my father, Dr. Denis Dudley, a double board certified endocrinologist and OB/GYN specializing in high-risk pregnancy was asked by a patient about sunscreens. It would have been the early nineties and his honest answer was that he did not know. Fortunately, his lovely and very talented wife (and my mother) was a dermatologist so with the help of an amazing chemist as their partner- they began the decade long process of researching skincare and specifically sunscreens and its effect on our health and well-being.

pregnancy, sunscreen

Me at 19 Weeks Pregnant

I came to the company in 2008 and started with getting our first formula into a bottle that is now known as Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 25. Fast forward 7 years, and I’m now in the position of being pregnant with my first child. Our company ethos has all of a sudden become extremely personal. I know first hand what it’s like to stand in the pharmacy aisle, scouring ingredients of everything from Tums to shampoo and questioning whether it’s ok to use.

Pregnancy has the most stringent of all life stages when it comes to reconsidering everything that is part of our daily life. I’ve personally been reading the MotherRisk website like its my newfound manual to life. I appreciate how balanced and informative it is because there is a plentitude of information on the internet. I’ve learned forums are not the best source as you get a lot of anecdotal stories that’s often contradictory.

So, what’s the story with sunscreen in pregnancy? Should you be using it and what should you avoid?

I think you can guess that I’m going to say, yes, you should use it and you should be even more careful about applying it than before. Melasma is a real and very frustrating condition. Unlike what I read in some pregnancy forums, it does not just resolve always after pregnancy. Nor is it as simple as whisking away to your doctor for a light peel or laser treatment. I’ve helped first hand women suffering from melasma. Most are very self-conscious about it. Most have not found a ‘silver-bullet’ to treat it, even in our sister clinic that has 20 light based ‘lasers’, access to any peel and/or topical. It’s a process treating it- a slow and deliberate one. Most once they get it- are plagued with the prevention/treatment dance for the rest of their lives.

What to look for in Sunscreen?

Avoid oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene and non-encapsulated octinoxate and any formula that contains parabens in its non-medicinal ingredients. That’s probably not a shocking recommendation if you’ve used our products for a while. We’ve been long time critics of oxybenzone especially. I’ve based that on it being a photo-allergen and since 2012, I’ve based it on the recommendations of the WHO report on Endocrine Disruptors. The report dismisses the idea that small doses of any potential endocrine disruptor can’t have a large impact on our health. It also states that fetal exposure, as well as childhood and adolescent exposure, are critical windows that can have life long effects. In simple terms- why risk it?

In pregnancy, we use the litmus test of whether a substance is absorbed into your body and whether levels are detectable. Oxybenzone clearly does get absorbed into the body- as confirmed by the CDC study that stated it was in 97% of a random sample of 2000 Americans. Avobenzone, octocrylene and non-encapsulated octinoxate all have smaller molecular weights than 500 Daltons. 500 Daltons is the generally accepted threshold for determining whether something can get absorbed past our outermost dead layer of skin.

Encapsulating smaller molecules in materials like silica can make them much larger-well past the 500 Dalton threshold. Our encapsulated octinoxate is roughly in the 5-7 micron range, making it act like a large particle based filter. Encapsulation can be a huge innovation in the future where even two normally incompatible ingredients, like avobenzone and octinoxate, could be combined in the same formula with no risk of photo-degradation. It’s unlikely though that we will see these new technologies on masse in commercially available sunscreens as they tend to be much more expensive than their non-encapsulated versions. If you see any of the above filters (oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene)- you can most likely assume they are not encapsulated at this present moment unless they state specifically otherwise.  If you’re not sure, reach out and ask the brand.

Of course, once you remove these filters as options, you’re not left with many alternatives if you live in North America. In the future, I hope to see two European ingredients Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M get approval in North America. These are large particle based filters that offer excellent UVA/UVB protection. They’ll be a huge boon to our sunscreen market if and when they come. Due to their large particle size and excellent photo-stability, they are as controversy-free as I’ve seen of any sunscreen ingredient.

Until then, you are essentially left with zinc oxide as your main preferred ingredient. You need at least 10% of zinc oxide in your product and in pregnancy, I’d recommend to stick to higher concentrations for the added UVA protection. To me, the issue of nano versus non-nano is a bit of a red herring. It’s also well accepted that in the world of sunscreens, nano particles are huge compared to traditional low molecular weight filters. If you are still worried, repeated studies have shown that it does not go past the stratum corneum. You can look for the term non-nano on your label but since definitions of what constitutes nano vary- what might be non-nano to some could be nano to others. As proof of that, although we use the same form of zinc oxide in both formulas- it’s considered non-nano by one division in Health Canada but considered nano by another.

Zinc oxide can be combined with another filter like titanium dioxide or an encapsulated version of another non-mineral filter. Just remember- they are a bonus so to speak in terms of added protection mostly within the UVB range but the essential is to look for a high concentration of zinc oxide for truly balanced protection. Combine daily use with other sun protective habits like glasses, hats and seeking shade and you’ll be a healthy and happy mama-to-be in the sun protection department.