The principle ingredients in sunscreens are a combination of aromatic molecules which are well conjugated with carbonyl groups. It is this molecular structure of the sunscreen which allows it to absorb and reflect the UV rays preventing skin damage. Along with these ingredients a chemical stabilizer is often added to sunscreens to ensure that its break down is slow upon exposure to UV rays.
When shopping for your sunscreens look for these ingredients to know whether their presence is good or bad for- you, your family and loved ones:
Zinc Oxide – It is a physical ingredient which sits on the skins surface and is not absorbed into the skins surface. It manages to block both UVA and UVB rays. Since this component is not absorbed into the skin it is non-allergenic and non- irritating.
Titanium dioxide – This ingredient has a very high refractive index with a very strong UV light absorbing capability. It doesn’t get discolored when exposed to direct UV light enhancing its ability to protect the skin. Titanium dioxide doesn’t is considered non irritating and
Sunscreens that contain minerals such as zinc and titanium are the best choices for children and for people with sensitive skin.
Oxybenzone –This is one of the most common ingredients found in almost 60% of all sunscreen formulations. It is considered to be an active ingredient in sunscreens but expert have raised concerns regarding this ingredients safety. Since oxybenzone penetrates the skin easily it has been linked with allergic reactions. Experts also suggest that oxybenzone could cause potential hormone disruption as it “undergoes conjugation in the body to make it water soluble”(1). Almost all experts suggest that formulations containing this ingredient should not be used on children.
Octyl Salicylate – This is an organic compound and used in sunscreens and cosmetics for its ability to absorb UVB rays. This colorless liquid is formed by combining a condensation of salicylic acid with 2-ethylhexanol. The UVB absorbing ability of this compound comes from the salicylate portion and the 2-ethylhexanol portion adds emollient properties to your sunscreen as it is a fatty alcohol.
Avobenzone- This ingredient is oil soluble and is used in sunscreens as it absorbs the full spectrum of UVA rays. As it absorbs UV light over a wide range of light wavelengths it is used in the preparation of broad spectrum products. There is very limited skin penetration of this ingredient causing no hormone disruption or photo allergy.
Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate) – Cinnamates are often used in sunscreens as they act as UVB absorbers. Since they are not easily soluble in water they are used in sunscreens to which aim at being ‘water proof’ or ‘water resistant’. Research indicates that cinnamates do not cause any direct allergic reactions.
Ecamsule – This is an organic compound and is added to sunscreens in order to filter out UVA rays. This ingredient is considered safe as it doesn’t have any per-cutaneous absorption and also because it is not photomutagenic.
PABA, (para-aminobenzoic acid) – Para-aminobenzoic acid or PABA is an organic compound which is slightly soluble in water. This was one of the first active ingredients to be used in sunscreens. However, research reveals that exposure to PABA increases the risk of cellular damage.
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(1) Gonzalez HG, Farbrot A, Larko O., 2002, Clinical and Experimental Dermatology 27(8): 691-94., “Percutaneous absorption of benzophenone-3, a common component of topical sunscreens”