Personal Care and Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid
There are no federal regulations defining the use of words like ‘natural’ or ‘green’ when it pertains to biodegradable sunscreens, personal care products or cosmetics. Some brands will add a very small percentage of an ingredient in their products, then put safe, natural, green or organic on the label. This is not only misleading, but is not cool! The chemist, the explorer and the environmentalist all wish for a world where every consumer reads the ingredients panel of every product they choose to use… and begins to pick out some ingredients that may not only be harmful to your body, but also to our fragile marine environment. Here are some key body care and sunscreen ingredients to avoid that we’d like you to be conscious of:
Benzophenone-3, also know as Oxybenzone
A very common ingredient in FDA approved sunscreens. Very effective at reducing UV exposure, it is also classified as a hazardous irritant for eye contact and slightly hazardous for direct skin contact. (https://www.spectrumchemical.com/MSDS/B3409.pdf). This ingredient penetrates the skin and is also used to help other chemicals penetrate the skin. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 97 percent of Americans have this chemical circulating in our bodies. Also listed as a direct cause of coral bleaching by Robert Davanero et al – there is strong cause to avoid all products using this ingredient: (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2291018/)
Avobenzone, also a benzophenone
A very common ingredient in FDA approved chemical-based sunscreens. Avobenzone is often used in replace of Oxybenzone, but is still a benzophenone and holds with it similar risks associated with Oxybenzone. This ingredient works the same as oxybenzone in that it penetrates the skin and is also used to help other chemicals penetrate the skin. It also photodegrades in with exposure to sunlight, increasing free radicals in the skin, increasing risks of types of skin cancer as well as photocontact alltergies to sunscreens. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19856938
Cylcopentasiloxane / Cyclomethicone
Silicone-based ingredients that are used in skin and hair care products. They soften the skin and smooth hair follicles, but they’ve also been shown to be toxic and to bio-accumulate in aquatic organisms. They are also suspected to be reproductive toxins and endocrine disruptors.
Formaldehyde, Diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, DMDM Hydantoin and Hydroxymethylglycinate
Formaldehyde – you won’t see formaldehyde listed on any of your personal care products, but many of the preservatives that have been used as paraben replacements RELEASE formaldehyde! Diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, DMDM Hydantoin and Hydroxymethylglycinate are all formaldehyde releasers. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. It is also an ecotoxin.
Another very common sunscreen ingredient that, for health concerns, is limited to less than 10% in a formula by the FDA. Its used as a UV absorber that helps sunscreen ingredients penetrate your skin. It bio-accumulates in the body faster than it can be eliminated and is considered a hormone disrupter.
A widely used and very effective preservative. It is considered a sensitizer and irritant, is associated with allergic reactions, and lab studies are suggesting that it may be a neurotoxin. It is also considered an ecotoxin.
Most commonly used in cleansers and exfoliants, but also found in other personal care products like toothpastes. Because they are so fine, most wastewater treatment plants cannot filter these and they end up in the environment. These have been found in fish and other aquatic species.
These are insoluble or biopersistant materials with a size of 1 to 100 nanometers, which can be up to 100,000 times smaller than a human hair! Nanomaterials can react in the body and environment differently from the same material that is non-nano. Although manufacturers have stated that nanoparticles are safe, there are still concerns among scientists. A recent study has shown that zinc oxide nanoparticles, even in extremely low concentrations, caused significant developmental disorders in sea life (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b00345) When nano sunscreens wash off people’s bodies, they can harm our environment. If you are using a mineral sunscreen, zinc or titanium, make sure it is non-nano grade.
A synthetic UV absorber and SPF booster. It may cause allergic reactions in those with sensitive skin and has been shown to bio-accumulate in the body.
Octinoxate / Octyl methoxycinnamate
Also a commonly used UV filter approved by the FDA for use in sunscreens. It is absorbed through the skin and has been found in human urine, blood and breast milk, showing that it is systematically absorbed. It is an endocrine disruptor that can mimic hormones. Also listed as a direct cause for coral bleaching by Robert Davanero et al – there is strong cause to avoid all products using this ingredient: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2291018/
Including propylparaben, benzylparaben, methylparaben and butylparaben are commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and molds in personal care products like shampoos, lotions and sunscreens. These ingredients can mimic the hormone estrogen which has been known to contribute to breast cancer and can also mimic other hormones in the body. The good news is that many brands, including many in the main-stream, have recognized the cause for concern and will clearly label their products as ‘paraben-free’, but many still use this effective and inexpensive preservative. Read your labels, friends!
Commonly found in synthetic fragrances, block male hormones and can interfere with normal genitalia development. High levels can cause sluggish sperm and low testosterone levels in adult males. These are also classified as endocrine disruptors that can interfere with normal brain function. Although this doesn’t guarantee there are no phthalates in the formula, look for fragrances that are designated as ‘natural’ or derived from essential oils. Some companies will also state phthalate free on their labels or in their marketing literature.
A very effective, broad antimicrobial ingredient preservative that is suspected to be a formaldehyde releaser. Used in low concentrations, it is still classified as a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant. According to SafeCosmetics.org: The North American Contact Dermatitis Group considers quaternium-15 to be among the most clinically significant contact allergens in children.
Often found in many cosmetics and skin care products, is composed of palmitic acid and retinol (Vitamin A). When exposed to UV light (or sunshine), retinol compounds break down and produce toxic free radicals that can damage the skin. The FDA has raised concern that extensive, daily skin application of vitamin A creams may build up a high enough level of Vitamin A that may be toxic to a developing fetus.
Sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate (SLS/SLES)
A surfactant, detergent and emulsifier that creates lots of lather in shampoos and body washes. Although SLS is ‘derived from coconuts,’ the resulting molecule is VERY different from any coconut we’ve ever seen. A quick look at the ingredient’s MSDS sheet shows lots of potential for concern. They have been mentioned in nearly 16,000 studies in the PubMed science library about the toxicity of this chemical. Although the suppliers maintain that actual health risk varies based on the level of exposure to the ingredient, we maintain that it is the gradual, long term exposure that really counts and encourage you to avoid using this ingredient in any of your body care products. https://www.spectrumchemical.com/MSDS/S4160.pdf If that wasn’t enough to deter you, SLS is also listed as ‘toxic to aquatic organisms’ http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC35205
Yes, Zinc is found naturally in the environment and in seawater; however, we are suggesting that you use extreme caution when choosing zinc based sunscreens that are promoted as ‘clear’ or ‘transparent.’ Some of these dispersions have the ability of offering a transparent zinc without having to use nano particles. BUT if you review the MSDS sheet of these materials – even the all natural version used in natural products – they are all listed as marine pollutants and have ‘a component listed as highly toxic to aquatic organisms.’ Some of these have ‘Attention! Highly toxic to fish and/or other aquatic organisms’ listed on first page of MSDS, others are buried under Section 12 of the MSDS sheet.
Order your very own Stream2Sea Ingredients to Avoid Card here.
For a limited time, every order of Stream2Sea products will receive a waterproof Ingredients to Avoid Card so you can be reminded to stay protected on the go!