Safer Sunscreens For You & The Environment

Safer Sunscreens For You & The Environment

Taken from Raw Elements Website


It is important to understand how UV radiation affects our skin. First and foremost, sunlight is a source of life energy for all living organisms. As humans, we need a healthy amount of sun daily to ensure we acquire adequate Vitamin D, which is necessary for cellular function. Overexposure to UV radiation is where issues arise and needs to be avoided.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays; UVA and UVB. UVA is comprised of UVA1 & UVA2. UVA rays, the “tanning” rays, are deeper penetrating and responsible for longer term skin aging, wrinkles and cellular damage. Overexposure to UVA rays is now believed to be a key contributor toward the most aggressive and potentially deadly form of skin cancer, Melanoma. UVB rays are primarily responsible for reddening or “burning” of the outer layers of skin. UVB damage and sunburn can also cause skin cancer. Each incidence of burning to a peel is believed to increase one’s risk of skin cancer by 50%. To easily remember the difference between the two: UVA (aging/tan) and UVB (burning/sunburn). Overexposure to both UVA and UVB rays is carcinogenic and can cause skin cancer.

Some additional facts about UV rays:

    • The intensity of UVA rays remains constant throughout the seasons of the year.
    • UV exposure can be increased by as much as 25%, 50% and 80% from the reflection off of sand, water and snow respectively.
    • UVA rays penetrate through glass windows all year round
    • Higher Elevations increase the intensity of UV rays and can possibly lead to exposure of UVC radiation.
    • Over 90% of UV radiation hitting the earth are UVA rays.
    • Over 80% of UV radiation, especially UVA radiation can penetrate cloud cover all year round.
    • UV damage is cumulative throughout our lifetime. Meaning, each occurrence piles on top of the previous. Each time a person sunburns to a peel, their risk of cancer increases by 50%. Persons with more than 40 moles are 3 times more likely to develop skin cancer.


SPF (Sun Protection Factor) refers to the amount of protection against UVB rays a sunscreen offers. This amount is measured in percentages and is not a linear scale. For instance:

    • SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
    • SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
    • SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays

    Therefore, SPF 50 only provides 1% more protection than SPF 30.

    All sunscreen, whether SPF 15 or 70 needs to be applied and reapplied properly. An SPF of 30 does not mean that a sunscreen protects your skin for 2xs longer than SPF 15. It does not measure a product’s ability to protect your skin from UVA rays, which are also damaging.

    Most dermatologists recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or SPF 30 for a few reasons. First, sunscreens with very high SPFs do not offer much more protection than SPF 30 and give people a false sense of security that they are more protected than they actually are. Also, in order to have true broad spectrum protection, the UVA protection should be at least 1/3 of the UVB protection. Sunscreens with high SPFs typically have much greater UVB protection than UVA. Lastly, typically, double or triple the amount of chemicals are needed to achieve an SPF higher than 30.


    Sunscreen’s most important job is to provide true broad spectrum protection. Broad Spectrum protection refers to a product’s ability to effectively mitigate the harmful effects of both UVA and UVB rays. Under the FDA regulations, a product marked ‘Broad Spectrum’ will now be mandated to filter a balanced amount of UVA relative to its SPF (UVB) claim. Zinc Oxide is the only active ingredient that solely provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays, which is why it is in the only active ingredient in our sunscreens.


    With label claims, ingredient lists and testing translations being so confusing, it is important for consumers to understand how to go about choosing sunscreens that are safe and effective.

      1. Choose Broad Spectrum Non-Nano Zinc Oxide protection. There are 18 FDA approved active ingredients in sunscreen. While many of these offer UVB protection, only four offer any UVA protection. Many sunscreens use a combination of these to provide both UVA and UVB protection. Zinc Oxide is the only broad spectrum active, which means it is the only single ingredient that physically blocks the entire range of UVA and UVB rays. Look for Non-Nano Zinc Oxide percentages to be over 18% and the only active ingredient.
      2. Use SPF 30. It is a widely accepted that Broad Spectrum SPF 30 is the benchmark needed to provide adequate UVB & balanced UVA protection.
      3. Look for Water Resistant 80 Minutes. The term “Water Resistant 80 Minutes” is regulated by the FDA. It represents a sunscreenʼs ability to remain effective after 80 minutes of exposure to water. “Waterproof” and “All Day Protection” claims are misleading and against FDA regulations. A product that is “Water Resistant 80 Minutes” will likely offer better sweat resistance as well.
      4. Avoid Sprays and Powders. Avoid sprays or powder sunscreens at all costs. These types of applications expel excess amounts of chemical ingredients which are inhaled and pose a health hazard. Additionally, these chemicals go airborne and indiscriminately pollute the environment. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to determine the amount being applied and quite often skin coverage is not effective.


        Equally as crucial to choosing the right sunscreen, and maybe even more challenging, is how to go about using this sunscreen properly. The manner and amount of sunscreen a consumer applies will dramatically affect sunscreen performance.

          1. Sunscreen is the last line of defense, not the first. It is imperative that a complete approach toward sun protection is used. Contrary to popular belief, no sunscreen alone will keep you totally protected. It is always suggested to stay out of peak sun between the hours of 10am and 2pm, seek shade and wear protective clothing and hats. Avoid extended periods of exposure, never allow skin to sunburn and avoid a deep tan, as both UVA and UVB rays cause skin cancer.
          2. Apply more than enough. To ensure sunscreen is as effective as advertised, the correct amount must be applied. The FDA regulates that all sunscreens must be SPF tested in the amount of 2mg of formula per square centimeter of skin. What this means is that an adult wearing only shorts must use one full ounce of sunscreen per application to cover all the exposed skin properly. Approximately a teaspoon size amount is needed to adequately protect the face, ears and neck. Using less than the correct amount drastically reduces the sunscreens ability to protect the skin and the SPF claim will not be met. The average consumer applies 25% of the necessary amount of sunscreen per application, making an SPF 30 turn into about an SPF of 5. An easy way to apply is to put on enough to leave an even, visible film over the desired coverage area, then rub in to the desired look.
          3. Apply early, reapply often. The vast majority of chemical sunscreens require early application, at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure to be effective. Reducing this time period will reduce the effectiveness of the sunscreen. However, Non-Nano Zinc Oxide is effective the moment it is evenly applied to the skin. It is imperative to reapply sunscreen often, at least every eighty minutes during long periods of sun exposure. Regardless how “Water Resistant” a formula is, it is wise to reapply after any water exposure, sweating or towel drying.


            Although our sunscreens are a great first line of defense, we want to offer you some sun safety tips to get optimal protection:

              • Always wear UV protective clothing, including hats, sunglasses, rash guards, etc.
              • Limit your time in the sun between the hours of 10am and 2pm, when the sun is most intense.
              • Always stay hydrated and seek shade whenever available.
              • Young children need even more protection from heat and sun.


            Coral reefs are some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. They are home to 25% of all marine life and provide most of the world’s oxygen.


            In recent years, there has been a major decline of our coral reefs due to coral bleaching:
            • 40% in Hawaii
            • 40% in the Great Barrier Reef
            • 85% in the Caribbean
            • 99% in the Florida Keys 
            A major cause of this decline is sunscreen pollution. Chemicals found in many sunscreens have been extremely detrimental to our reefs. Approximately 14K tons of sunscreen enter waters around corals each year, but that’s only a piece of the problem. Sewage is one of the biggest sources of pollution. Whether you live inland or by the beach, what you put on your body is going to reach our waters. When you shower, it’s going to wash off and end up in our lakes, oceans and rivers. A small amount of these chemicals can cause a lot of damage. As little as 1 drop of oxybenzone in 6.5 olympic sized swimming pools is enough to cause an adverse effect in coral.


            We feel a great responsibility to raise awareness about this issue and make a positive impact, which is why we use only non-nano zinc oxide as the active ingredient in all our products. It is the only active that does not damage corals.


            "When ingredients are uncoated and nano-size (less than 35 nanometers in diameter), they can enter the cells of invertebrates and cause oxidative stress in sunlight. This blows up the cells so they die. Your best bet is to go for non-nano zinc oxide larger than 150 nanometers. At that point, the toxicity drops off and there is no threat.” – Dr. Craig Downs, Executive Director of Haereticus Environmental Lab


            When you use our products, you will be protecting both yourself and the ocean.


            Many people are unknowingly using sunscreens that damage corals. There is so much misinformation and little regulations on the terminology. You will often see words like “natural”, “eco safe” or “reef safe” in the name or description of very toxic products, which can mislead consumers. Some brands add minerals or organic ingredients into the mix and tout those, distracting from dangerous active ingredients.


            Below is a list of cautionary ingredients not allowed in many eco-marine reserves. This is because they have a negative effect on corals from damaging DNA to bleaching. Unfortunately, one or more is in over 90% of sunscreens on the market:


            • Avobenzone
            • Benzophenone-3
            • Butyl/Methoxydibenzoylmethane
            • Butylcarbamate
            • Butylparaben
            • Cetyl Dimethicone
            • Cinoxate/Cinnamate
            • Dimethyl Apramide
            • Dioxybenzone
            • Hexyldecanol
            • Homosalate
            • Menthyl Anthranilate
            • Methlparaben
            • Methylbenzylidene
            • Nano-Particles
            • Octinoxate
            • Octocrylene
            • Octyl Salicyclate
            • Oxybenzone
            • Padimate O / Paba
            • Phenylbenzimidazole
            • Polyethylene
            • Propylparaben
            • Sulisobenzone
            • Titanium coated in Aluminum or Dimethicone
            • Trolamine Salicyclate

            LEARN MORE

            For some more information on this issue, check out these great resources:
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