It is rare to find a sunscreen that meets all concerns for safety
Sunscreens work by altering how the skin responds to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunscreen ingredients absorb, reflect or scatter UV rays. For years, manufacturers created sunscreens that were only effective at screening out UVB radiation, since this is the type of radiation that was known to cause sunburn and lead to skin cancer. Recently, however, we have learned that UVA radiation is also harmful. While all sunscreens provide UVB protection, not all provide adequate protection from UVA rays. While SPF numbers tell you how much protection you are getting from UVB rays, they tell you nothing about the level of UVA protection you are getting.
Tanning is caused by UVA radiation that triggers the growth of melanin in our skin. Sunburns are predominantly caused by shorter wavelength UVB exposure. In general, if we block UVB radiation and allow UVA we can tan and not burn. However, the problem is that overexposure to UVA light is also damaging to skin; it is associated with immune suppression, skin aging and even cancer. Unlike sunburn, you don’t get an immediate signal that you’ve had too much sun, so the subtle damages add up over the years. Sunscreens need to provide broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) coverage to protect against sunburn and other long-term skin damage.
There are two categories of commercially available sunscreens, physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens.
Physical sunscreens work by forming an opaque film that reflects or scatters UV light before it can penetrate the skin. These sunscreens contain mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which protect against both UVA and UVB rays. These products are the safest and most effective sunscreens available in this country.
Chemical sunscreens work differently. They absorb UV rays before they can cause any damage. They contain one or more ingredients such as avobenzone or oxybenzone, which absorb UVA or UVB rays. All chemical sunscreens contain at least one sunscreen chemical considered to be a potential hormone disrupter.1 Most offer only moderate or weak UVA protection. Concerns have also been raised about a vitamin A compound called retinyl palmitate found in many chemical sunscreens. This chemical, when applied to skin that is exposed to sunlight, may accelerate the development of skin tumors and lesions.2,3
After reviewing sunscreen options, I am recommending Kabana’s Green Screen® Organic sunscreen and have made it available on my website. I believe it is a good choice for broad spectrum, balanced UV protection without potentially hazardous chemicals. Green Screen® is a physical sunscreen made from all natural and edible grade organic ingredients. It uses zinc oxide which is well studied, safe and the preferred sunscreen ingredient of the Environmental Working Group. Zinc oxide based sunscreens are the best option because they provide superior UVB and UVA protection without estrogenic and other toxic side effects.
Of all the physical sunscreen products Kabana Green Screen is one of the very few that does not contain nano or micro-sized particles. Many companies choose to use nanoparticles because they are more transparent when applied to the skin. Nanoparticles are defined as particles having at least one dimension smaller than 100 nanometers. Concerns for toxic effects increase as particle size decreases due to the potential for these small particles to absorb through the skin and bypass our body’s natural defense mechanisms.4 The sunscreen industry has chosen to integrate nanoparticle zinc oxide or titanium dioxide into nearly all mineral sunscreen products. Nanosize zinc or titanium penetration through fragile or damaged skin is of particular concern.
There are no labeling requirements for nanoparticle use so consumers have few options for avoiding products containing them. Some manufacturers claim their products are “non-nano” even though a substantial amount of particles are over 100 nanometers and in the nanoscale range. The common label terms “micronized” and “ultra-fine” do not preclude the presence of nano zinc or titanium in sunscreen. Products that claim to be transparent are very likely to contain nanoparticles. The most reliable criteria for choosing a non-nano product is the color; larger particles are visible and will leave a faint white coloring. Green Screen® is also safe for use on children and babies younger then 6 months. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 80% of our lifetime skin damage occurs before the age of 18 so it is critical to protect kids from the sun. Children, however, are especially vulnerable to chemical exposure because their young skin is thinner than adult skin and therefore more permeable to the chemicals frequently found in sunscreens. Zinc oxide is the only sunscreen active ingredient that’s approved for use on children less than 6 months of age.
This product is also environmentally friendly and safe for marine ecosystems and coral reefs. Kabana’s Green Screen Sunscreen is available in regular and tinted versions. The tinted product contains the same superior organic and natural ingredients but it’s also tinted to a warm beige with iron oxide and is designed to blend in with naturally darker or tan skin.
1. Krause M, Klit A, Blomberg Jensen M, et al: Sunscreens: are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV-filters. Int J Androl 2012;35:424-436.
2. Lunder S: Environmental Working Group. What Scientists Say About Vitamin A in Sunscreen. 2011. http://www.ewg.org/research/what-scientists-say-about-vitamin-sunscreen . Accessed May 21, 2014.
3. Environmental Working Group. The problem with vitamin A. 2014. http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/the-problem-with-vitamin-a/ . Accessed May 21, 2014.
4. Environmental Working Group. Nanoparticles in Sunscreens. 2014. http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/nanoparticles-in-sunscreen/ . Accessed