Tag Archives: zinc oxide sunscreen

reef safe sunscreen

Reef Safe Sunscreens and the Hawaii Ban

What Does Reef Safe Mean and All About the Hawaii Ban

We’ve been fielding a lot of questions as of late as to our perspective on the recent Hawaii ban. It’s such a definitive action in an industry where regulations move so languidly and industry is often left to self-regulate.

There is no question that for the most part, the ban in Hawaii on oxybenzone and octinoxate is a good thing.  This is coming from us as a zinc oxide sunscreen provider that has a formula that contains octinoxate.  We’ll get to that important detail.  However, we’ve been beating a drum against oxybenzone since the creation of our company. Some might say it was one of the reasons we started our company. Certainly a sunscreen that is defined as ‘safe enough for a pregnant woman to use’ will never include one formulated with oxybenzone so it is refreshing to see the first piece of definitive legislation come out against it.

Having said that, there is no question that the Hawaii decision is also partially political in nature.  If it was merely science-led, then the data against for reef degradation is limited to oxybenzone.  There is substantial reason to condemn oxybenzone with respect to coral bleaching or what is otherwise known as the ossification of coral. It’s been shown to be toxic to the symbiotic organisms that co-habitate with coral, and are essential to its existence. It’s also beens shown to impede the corals ability to fight of viral infection and withstand rising water temperatures as part of global warming.  It’s the characteristics of oxybenzone that are most likely the cause for these adverse effects.  It’s a filter of small molecular weight, less than half the size of a nanometer (compared to nano zinc oxide which is typically 70-100+ nanometers in size). It is photo reactive and breaks down in sunlight to create Reactive Oxygen Species. It’s been shown repeatedly to permeate human tissue and there is considerable evidence that points to its role as an endocrine disruptor.  It’s reasonable to extrapolate that this toxicity to the larvae within the reefs is a similar biological response, some form of hormone disruption on a larger scale.

The inclusion of octinoxate is curious in the sense that it’s a form of a half step.  There is limited science in terms of directly correlating the same coral bleaching to octinoxate, however, it is reasonable to extrapolate it might have a similar effect based on very similar shared characteristics with oxybenzone. Both conventional octinoxate and oxybenzone are of small molecular weight, photo reactive and potential endocrine disruptors.  However, so are other organic/carbon based filters like avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, and more.  In fact, avobenzone is even more similar to oxybenzone in that they share the similar chemical structure of a benzene ring.  The same structure that means in a chemistry lab they would be handled with care under a chemical hood and with significant handling measures to prevent contact.  However, these other filters were not included. It’s reasonable to ask why?  It’s most likely a case of where the precautionary principle butts against practical limitations.  You can imagine how weighty a ban would be if it included most organic based filters.  With skin cancer still on the rise, it would also be difficult to limit sunscreen options where 95% of available ones still include these organic filters.

On Encapsulated Octinoxate

I know some might read our questioning of the ban as part of a vested interest as our formula Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 25 contains encapsulated octinoxate.  Although this ban does not allow for any exceptions and this means that users cannot bring this formula to Hawaii shorelines, we feel all others can feel confident in its every day use.  We would never consider using conventional octinoxate for all of the reasons we listed above.  We feel it can be blackballed for the same reasons we would forgo oxybenzone.

Encapsulation remains an innovative solution or work around to the issues with these small molecular weight filters.  The octinoxate we use is doped in a silica bead (which is derived from sand), making it roughly the size of 5-7 microns, meaning it’s 10,000 to 14,000 times larger than conventional octinoxate.  It therefore cannot permeate living tissue, either human or animal. The octinoxate does not come into contact with the tissue or coral itself as it remains within the silica bead. This is how encapsulated octinoxate does not have the same issue with photo-allergy that often plagues conventional octinoxate.

The process of encapsulation turns these small problematic filters into large particles, similar in characteristics to zinc oxide and other minerals.  It’s unfortunate that it has not been more commonly used in the industry but it’s lack of use relates more to cost and formulation challenges and not its intrinsic merit.

Implications of the ban

The most immediate implications will be that consumers will see more and more of the label claim ‘reef safe’.  However, the term is not regulated in terms of what it means and most likely will never be regulated.  A quick Google search for ‘reef safe sunscreens’ returns a whole host of options, some of which include formulas with oxybenzone.  As is customary for this industry, consumers are going to have to be educated label readers.

Formulas containing high concentrations of zinc oxide remain the most prudent choice for consumers.  We encourage consumers to look for sunscreen providers who are credible and know the science behind their offerings.  Consumers should also look to other sun safety measures while on holiday like the use of sun protective clothing.

There is a path forward for consumers to be both health and environmentally conscious and we as a company, The Sunscreen Company TM, will continue in our efforts to lead the way.

sunscreen launch, summer, zinc oxide, The Sunscreen Company

What You Need to Know from the other Canadian Company Launching Sunscreens this summer

An Interview between Tom Heinar and Sara Dudley, Co-Founders of The Sunscreen Company TM

What You Need to Know from the other Canadian Company Launching Sunscreens this summer

Name: Tom Heinar

Credentials: Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Biochemistry

Years in the Business:

39 Years in the Business Total, 36 Years in Cosmetic Formulations

Previous Companies: Estée Lauder, Revlon Canada, Unilever and more plus own private consulting company Cosmetic Formulation Services

Sara: You have been in the business a very long time.  What’s your relationship with The Sunscreen Company TM and why the focus on sunscreens?

Tom: I’ve been with The Sunscreen Company TM since its earliest days in 1995.  My co-founders and I have been working and developing sunscreens so intensively in that time that I’ve made it clear on any other projects that I work on that I would only formulate sunscreens for us as a company.  We’ve developed some really key innovations in sunscreen formulations, one of which is patent pending, and they are only available through here.

Sara: What are some of the innovations?

Tom: We’ve found a way to improve not only the SPF of all mineral formulas but also the UVA protection factor, which is critical to making the best sunscreen possible.

Sara: So you can have a high SPF (SPF 40-50+) in an all mineral sunscreen? Is it a true SPF?

Tom: Yes, you can absolutely have a high SPF in an all mineral sunscreen, i.e. use only inorganic filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  When people say the SPF is fake, they are alluding to the fact that you can game the SPF test by including things like anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories in the formula that take away skin redness but only use low concentrations of the active filters.  The SPF test uses human subjects and a measure of skin redness so if you take away skin redness then you can get an artificially high SPF.  That is commonly done in the industry, however it is not something we would do.  

All of our formulas use high concentrations of zinc oxide, a minimum of 15% but as high as the maximum of 25%.  We do use other minerals like titanium dioxide and some proprietary mixes of others to give a real SPF of 45-50, depending on the specific formula.

Sara: You mentioned a patented innovation. What is it?

Tom: We’ve developed a proprietary dispersion method that makes the minerals we use much more efficient in protecting against both UVA and UVB rays.  It’s an Ecocert certified organic ingredient that holds the active ingredients in uniform suspension so that you get even protection.  Zinc oxide has a tendency to want to clump together so by keeping it in uniform suspension you make it more efficient.  A 15% concentration of zinc oxide then begins to act like a 25% concentration, and a 25% concentration is even better.

In short, we’ve found a way to make the most protective zinc oxide sunscreens- ever.  

Sara: What about the idea that an SPF 30 blocks up to 97% and an SPF 60 only blocks up to around 98%? Is a higher SPF necessary?

Tom: That is true but it’s only part of the story.  In years passed, we have tried to get people to move away from just focusing on SPF because it only really talks about protection against UVB. It missed the critical factor of what the UVA protection was.  

Five years ago, we wanted people to use good high concentration zinc oxide sunscreens in order to get better UVA protection.  A lot of the other, conventional sunscreens were what we called UVB biased, i.e. might have had an SPF 100 but really poor UVA protection.  So we didn’t want people sacrificing their protection against UVA to get a high SPF.

Things have changed now though.  You don’t have to compromise between the two.  You can get excellent UVA protection with high concentration zinc oxide sunscreens and get high UVB/SPFs as well.  When we talk about having next generation sunscreens, that is what we are talking about.

Sara: What are some use cases where people might care about having a higher SPF?

Tom: Certainly for some Canadians mid-winter, who have minimal daily exposure outside- or doing activities like commuting to work, a lower SPF is ok.  However, if you are going to have extended exposure, then a higher SPF is better as long as you are not trading off your UVA protection.  

Sara: Are these sunscreens aesthetic?

Tom: Yes. We’ve always said there is no point formulating a sunscreen that is protective if it doesn’t look good on the skin. It’s not offering any protection if it stays in the bottle so to speak.  People really liked the transparency and matte quality of our previous formulations.  Our next generation of formulas are equally as good.  

Sara: Can you discuss some of the technical innovations in the new Ava Isa SPF 45 line?

Tom: That product was intended to be incredibly matte and dry on the skin to feel weightless.  It’s thixotropic, meaning it seems to be thicker but as soon as you put any pressure on it, say pushing it through the opening of the bottle, it thins out.  When you rub it on the skin, it drys almost instantaneously so you don’t feel any heavy sensation.  That took a considerable amount of work during development to get that texture.

It also includes our patent pending innovation so it’s 15% zinc oxide makes it more protective than our previous 22% zinc oxide (former Simply Zinc SPF 30) in the UVA range by at least 30%.

Sara: What about the upcoming Simply Zinc Ultra SPF 50?

Tom: That formula is a complete revision from its previous version (Simply Zinc SPF 30).  It contains 25% zinc oxide, so the maximum allowed in many countries.  It is very light in texture as well and has close to the same viscosity as water.  It has really light weight vegetable oils from saturated fats like coconut alkanes, and it again dries down on the skin almost instantaneously.  

It also contains our patent pending innovation so to our knowledge and according to our testing, it is one of the most protective zinc oxide sunscreens available, in the world.  

Sara: What is next in sunscreen formulations?

Tom: We always are looking for ways to improve.  We are looking at the impact of blue light and its effect on melasma and photo-aging. We will always look at ways to make zinc oxide even more protective, although I think we’ve gotten as close to perfect as we can with that.

We’ve also developed a formula that mixes a 22% zinc oxide with 9% Tinosorb M and 1% Tinosorb S.  They are incredibly safe and effective filters from Europe that are not allowed in the US.  It’s unfortunate because that is truly as close to a perfect sunscreen as we can get but we are restricted from selling it in North America.  It will change the game when we can sell it though and we are looking for global partners to help us.

We’ve really taken the time to specialize in sunscreens.  We want to live up to our name as The Sunscreen Company TM.  When you do that, the possibilities are endless.

sunscreen, bad ingrediens, avoid sun burn

3 Little Known Things That Should Never Be In Your Sunscreen

sunscreen, bad ingrediens, avoid sun burn

These 3 Things Should Never Be in Your Sunscreen.

If you’ve followed our blog or our company for a while, you’ve probably sensed our discomfort with the ingredient Oxybenzone.  We think it should be banned from our bodies.  If you have not read our many reasons why it’s an ingredient worth avoiding- click here to read why you could consider it one of the most dangerous chemicals in your house.

If you’re all caught up on that, we thought we’d share this month some lesser known no-no’s in sunscreen formulations.  I’ll admit when I scan labels these are the red-flags that jump out at me and make me wonder whether the formulator simply did not know any better or chose to ignore the most relevant science in our field.

In short, here is a list of little known things that should not be in your sunscreen

1. The Combination of Octinoxate and Avobenzone

This one is a doozy but fortunately relatively rare.  If you see it, put down the bottle and walk away.  For me, there is really no excuse to have these two ingredients combined.  We know better and should do better.

These two ingredients on their own are not great in their most current, prevalent form.  To my knowledge, most forms of these ingredients come in their commodity form as being small-particle sized.  They are potential photo-allergens.  They also have their own stability issues.  We use an encapsulated form of octinoxate in our Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 25. This dopes the octinoxate molecule into a silica bead and makes a small particle (that normally would get absorbed into the body) huge.  It makes it roughly 6-7 microns large so that it sits on the surface of the skin and actually does not come into contact, reducing any chance for allergy.

What you may not know though, is these two ingredients are like each others Kryptonite.  Avobenzone breaks down in sunlight, which is an unfortunate characteristic for a sunscreen filter.  It requires stabilization from ingredients like octocrylene or Mexoryl SX and Xl.  However, when combined with Octinoxate, they each precipitate the breakdown of each other.  This breakdown is so precipitous that not only do both your UVB and UVA protection of the sunscreen breakdown, free radicals are also generated.

Octocrylene as mentioned does abate the photodegredation of this combination somewhat but not sufficiently to make it a viable solution.  In theory, you could encapsulate both ingredients to keep them from coming into contact with each other.  However, this technology is not widely available and remains expensive and hard to work with.  The better solution would be to simply avoid this combination- if your product includes it, it’s worth questioning whether the manufacturer really understands sunscreen formulations.

2. Essential Oils especially citrus based ones

I’m not altogether against essential oils.  I see them as powerful and complex compounds.  The chemistry within a single drop is astonishing.  A knowledgable practitioner can use them to great effect- if used judiciously and strategically.  What I’m not comfortable with, is the increasing trend in skincare to use a dash-of-this-dash-of-that style of formulating with them.  You are starting to see a lot of craft style brands essentially sell mixes of essential oils where some times 10+ essential oils are mixed together.

I do not think they should be used in sunscreens.  When you take the complex chemistry of the skin, the sun and essential oils- I think you are mixing up host of potential reactions that are hard to predict.  One thing is clear though, you should never, ever use a product that contains lime or any citrus based essential oil during the day on sun exposed skin.  Dermatologist frequently see what is called photodermatitis- the sudden appearance of brown streaks or spots when lime juice or extract on the skin is exposed to sun light.  This pigmentation can take a long time to fade, however more severe reactions can occur with blistering or redness occurring as well.  As one Facebook user can attest, essential oils can cause really severe

essential oils, sun burn, burn skin

What Can Happen with Essential Oils and the Sun

blistering as you can tell by her alarming pictures.

This is another mistake in formulating a sunscreen that shows a lack of understanding about photobiology and dermatology.  I wish I could say it was a ‘rookie’ mistake but you see it in brands all of the time.

3. Anti-Inflammatories and Anti-Oxidants (if replacing concentrations of filters)

On their own, there is nothing wrong with anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants.  Plant derived anti-inflammatories include chamomile and Vitamin E.  We are a huge advocate for stable anti-oxidants like turmeric, resveratrol etc.  However, our issue with these two types of ingredients is when they are used to replace sunscreen filters as protection against the sun.  These ingredients can be used to increase the SPF of a sunscreen by gaming the current SPF test.

The FDA mandates that the in-vivo test for SPF is used, meaning it’s tested on humans as opposed to being tested in-vitro, which literally means tested on glass.  SPF is calculated by looking at the level of redness produced by directing a photo lamp at test subjects.  We are starting to learn that the photo lamp itself is problematic and not equivalent to natural sun light.  Another great limitation of the test is that it uses redness as the equivalent of sun protection.  Therefore a sunscreen formulation can focus on taking away redness in the skin by including anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants, and this will provide a higher SPF while not necessarily providing better protection.

I’m going to share the best metaphor I’ve ever read about these ingredients and sunscreen.  For the life of me, I can’t remember where I’ve read it so pardon my lack of an appropriate citation. Consider UV light like a gun.  Sunscreen filters are like a bullet-proof vest in that they shield you to varying degrees from getting shot.  They’re not perfect and some are better than others in making sure you do not get injured. Anti-oxidants do not prevent you from getting shot but they are equivalent to having a doctor on hand to help stitch you up after wards.  In other words, they do not prevent harm but they help heal it afterwards.  Anti-inflammatories within the context of sunscreens do not prevent you from getting shot nor do they help you heal afterwards.  They put a gag in your mouth so you can’t yell from the pain. For the SPF test, they stop redness from emerging  which is your body’s way of expressing sun damage.  You have to be very wary of formulas that prevent the expression of damage but not the damage itself!

How do you know if your sunscreen is relying on anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants to elevate their SPF? Look at the medicinal ingredients.  I’ve included a handy little SPF calculator in this post here. In short, if your sunscreen has something like 3% Titanium Dioxide and 2% Zinc Oxide, then it can have a max SPF of 11.  If it has an SPF 30 or more but has a long list of botanical extracts, then something is off.  In the coming days, we’ll discuss some new proprietary ways of increasing the SPF with non-medicinals that actually improve protection and do not game the SPF test.  In the interim, if the math does not add up, it’s worth being suspicious.

That’s it for now! Share your comments and questions below!

Warmest regards,

Sara

Me with Ava on a Holiday in the UK

Top Cosmetic Picks, Beauty Rituals and More

I’ve recently become obsessed with a blog out of New York (in addition to my routine addiction to all things Beauty Editor) called Cup of Jo.  It’s rare that you come across a body of writing that seems aspirational and yet attainable.  This blog is so good at encapsulating a feeling of coziness that I’ve taken to drinking a cup of tea while reading it before bed.

I only mention it now since one of my favourite sections is called Beauty Uniform where these impossibly amazing women share tidbits from their beauty regimens, design ethos and other little gems. Since I answer our customer service email (one of my favourite parts of the job is hearing directly from you all), I often share bits of my own beauty regimen.  Clearly from our company name, we advocate for the use of sunscreen but we get loads of questions about skincare beyond sun care.  With that in mind, I had the rather gauche idea of sharing my unsolicited beauty uniform.  Gauche because no one asked- and it is a straight rip of of the Cup of Jo format so I encourage you to click through and read some of the real deals.

First some details about me…

If we’ve never met or this is your first time reading, I’m the Executive Director of CyberDERM and have been for the past 8 years.  I currently live in Toronto with my amazing and loving husband and we just had our first child, our daughter Ava Isabella, almost a year ago.  She is the absolute light of our life.

Current skin status

I’m still currently breastfeeding our daughter, which I only mention because it means that I’m still in a quasi peri-menauposal state. I’ve found that my skin is affected hormonally in that it’s more dry than usual.  It’s quite reactive so I have to be gentle in terms of products that I use (and forgo Vitamin A based products while breastfeeding).  I’m also still trying to clear left over pigmentation from pregnancy and post-pregnancy hormonal breakouts.  It’s quite the mix of conditions but the upside is that I’ve really had to challenge my skincare to perform.  It’s made me the best guinea pig for our current line of products and the ones in R&D.

Skincare Routine

You can take it for granted that I’m pretty religious about sunscreen application.  I do test some formulas that are in R&D (we have some fabulous all mineral and hybrid ones in the works and maybe even some tinted ones to boot) but I otherwise use our Simply Zinc Sun Whip SPF 30 for every day use.  Our H20 Hydration is one of my go-to favourites- I think it has some of the best ingredients that I’ve seen in any product.  I love the ingredient Ectoins and think they are so beneficial for the skin that I made sure we included it in other future formulas.  I also rotate in our PM Anti-Age since I love turmeric and its skin brightening capabilities.  If you had told me when we created the formula 8 years ago that you would be able to go to your local cafe and order a shot of turmeric, I would have laughed!  We definitely had some worries when we launched it that people would not like its characteristic smell.  Fortunately, most people actually like its herbal notes or at least find it fades almost immediately after you apply it so aren’t bothered.

I also use two products that are not from our line and love them as a weekly ritual.  Every Sunday, I have face mask Sunday (it’s a very original title) where I sit for 15 quiet minutes with my Innisfree fermented soy face mask.  It’s a Korean brand that I gently cajoled my very sweet father in law to bring back for me from Hong Kong, although you can order them online.  I also use Glam Glow  Supercleanse Daily Clearing Cleanser once a week to help exfoliate.  It’s a more heavy duty product than I originally gave it credit for with its blend of glycol and lactic acid.  I can use our Exfoliant Reveal with its 8% glycolic acid without issue but the blend in the Glam Glow makes it that I can’t use more than once a week (but I still like it!).

Future obsessions

We get a lot of love for our current line of cosmeceuticals but one piece of consistent feedback has been to create a product/s that are more intensively hydrating, especially for mature skin.  We’ve been labouring over a natural line of products for the past two years and they are just now getting to the point of being perfected.  They are designed to be intensely hydrating.  Our focus word for the line was ‘nourishment’, which can be overplayed to the point of losing meaning in a lot of cosmetic marketing.  Essentially though if you could picture your perfect breakfast smoothie,what would it have in it?  Certainly a handful of high quality ingredients would be better than a long list.  They should be nutrient dense.  They should be colourful since ‘eating the rainbow’ is the best way to guarantee you are getting a broad range of anti-oxidant protection.  The end product should be appetizing or better yet delightful.  With those criteria in mind, we’ve put together some products that I’ve been using for the past couple of months and loving. I was reminded of the story of when Coco Chanel created Chanel 5 and gave small bottles as little gifts to her clients in her atelier.  I love the notion that these products are going to be sweet little ‘gifts’ to our customers and can’t wait for them to launch (but you will have to stay tuned to find out when).

Make-up picks

I’ve been using jane iredale as my foundation of choice for what feels like forever.  I still love it for its natural looking finish and its ease of application.  I am a bit more adventurous though when it comes to anything else.  I do love Butter London colours- Abbey Rose is my natural looking pink nude for everyday and Macbeth is a beautiful coral.  I’m also a little bit obsessed with Bite Beauty’s lipsticks as well.  They are an amazing Canadian success story and I love all of their products, currently I have colours in Chai, Dragonfruit, Sweet Cream, and Verbena.  I love any lipstick that is a bright magenta- it’s my version of a classic red.  Otherwise, I also use Ilia’s highlighter, Benefit’s brow gel and Urban Decay’s black eyeliner in Zero.

I think when you have a great routine you stick with it- I wore the same products for my wedding make-up that I wear for every day.

Mom Hair

I’ve had to forgo blowdrying my hair since my daughter was born.  I just don’t have time and the noise of the blowdryer currently scares her.  I therefore wear my hair curly and have been trying to get my natural wave into some form of consistent submission.  I’ll use Kevin Murphy’s purple shampoo Blond Angel for my caramel highlights to prevent brassiness.  I use a little Bumble and Bumble Invisible hair oil

Me with Ava on a Holiday in the UK

Me with Ava on a Holiday in the UK

after showering and Kevin Murphy’s mousse for volume.  I’ll also use the John Masters apple cider vinegar rinse every two weeks or so just to help with build up. I wear my hair every day while drying in either a french braid or two pig tails to help my curls dry uniformly.  Ava is a huge help as well as she loves to finger comb them afterwards, which leaves them a lovely frizzy mess but I wouldn’t give up the hair pulling or baby styling for anything.

Work Uniform

I work from home most days so as you can imagine it’s Casual Friday every day.  I swear that I do change out of my pyjamas every day, except maybe on the worst, most sleep challenged ones.  I mostly refuse to look like the cartoon doodle of a tired mom though so I do my best.  For work out of the home or meetings, I’m all about the well tailored dress and a blazer if I have to.  I say have to because when I was doing my MBA, I got the comment that you should always wear a blazer to be work appropriate.  I’m a bit ambivalent about that but since I tend to look considerably younger than I am it can sometimes be helpful.  Diane Von Furstenburg and Judith and Charles are my two favourites for simple, well fitting dresses.  My husband also thinks it worthwhile to have a couple of pairs of beautiful shoes and some classic purses.  He thinks they are like watches for men, although I think watches should be like watches for women too.  Who doesn’t need a power watch! Although it’s a rookie mistake to not have it set to the right time.

So that’s it for me, I’d love to hear from you about what your ‘beauty uniform’ is and you should definitely click through to Cup of Jo and subscribe to her posts.

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