Umbrella Gel SunscreenIngredients explained
When it comes to sunscreen agents, Zinc Oxide is pretty much in a league of its own. It's a physical (or inorganic) sunscreen that has a lot in common with fellow inorganic sunscreen Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) but a couple of things make it superior even to TiO2.
If physical sunscreens don't tell you anything, go ahead and read about the basics here. Most of what we wrote about Titanium Dioxide is also true for Zinc Oxide so we will focus here on the differences.
The first main difference is that while TiO2 gives a nice broad spectrum protection, Zinc Oxide has an even nicer and even broader spectrum protection. It protects against UVB, UVA II, and UVA I almost uniformly, and is considered to be the broadest range sunscreen available today.
It's also highly stable and non-irritating. So much so that Zinc Oxide also counts as a skin protectant and anti-irritant. It's also often used to treat skin irritations such as diaper rash.
As for the disadvantages, Zinc Oxide is also not cosmetically elegant. It leaves a disturbing whitish tint on the skin, although, according to a 2000 research paper by Dr. Pinnell, it's slightly less white than TiO2. Still, it's white and disturbing enough to use Zinc Oxide nanoparticles more and more often.
We wrote more about nanoparticles and the concerns around them here, but the gist is that if nanoparticles were absorbed into the skin that would be a reason for legitimate health concerns. But luckily, so far research shows that sunscreen nanoparticles are not absorbed but remain on the surface of the skin or in the uppermost (dead) layer of the skin. This seems to be true even if the skin is damaged, for example, sunburnt.
All in all, if you've found a Zinc Oxide sunscreen that you are happy to use every single day, that's fantastic and we suggest you stick with it. It's definitely one of the best, or probably even the best option out there for sun protection available worldwide.
A clear, oil-soluble, "cosmetically-elegant" liquid that is the most commonly used chemical sunscreen. It absorbs UVB radiation (at wavelengths: 280-320 nm) with a peak protection at 310nm.
It only protects against UVB and not UVA rays (the 320-400 nm range) – so always choose products that contain other sunscreens too. It is not very stable either, when exposed to sunlight, it kind of breaks down and loses its effectiveness (not instantly, but over time - it loses 10% of its SPF protection ability within 35 mins). To make it more stable it can be - and should be - combined with other sunscreen agents to give stable and broad-spectrum protection (the new generation sunscreen agent, Tinosorb S is a particularly good one for that).
Regarding safety, there are also some concerns around Octinoxate. In vitro (made in the lab not on real people) and animal studies have shown that it may produce hormonal (estrogen-like) effects. Do not panic, the studies were not conducted under real life conditions on real human people, so it is probably over-cautious to avoid Octinoxate altogether. However, if you are pregnant or a small child (under 2 yrs. old), choose a physical (zinc oxide/titanium dioxide) or new-generation Tinosorb based sunscreen, just to be on the super-safe side. :)
Overall, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate is an old-school chemical sunscreen agent. There are plenty of better options for sun protection today, but it is considered "safe as used" (and sunscreens are pretty well regulated) and it is available worldwide (can be used up to 10% in the EU and up to 7.5% in the US).
A chemical sunscreen agent that absorbs UVB and short UVA rays (280-350nm) with its peak protection at 288 nm. Unlike many other chemical sunscreens, it is highly stable but its UV absorbing abilities are weak so it always has to be combined with other sunscreen agents for proper protection. More often than not, it's used as a photostabilizer rather than a proper sunscreen agent as it can protect formulas nicely from UV damage.
Regarding safety, BP-3 is somewhat controversial. First, its molecules are small (228 Da) and very lipophilic (oil loving) and these properties result in very good absorption. The problem is that you want sunscreens on the top of your skin and not in your bloodstream, so for BP-3 this is a problem. In fact, it absorbs so well that 4 hours after application of a sunscreen product with BP-3, it can be detected in urine.
Another concern of BP-3 is that it shows some estrogenic activity, though it's probably not relevant when applied topically to the skin. Estrogenic activity was confirmed only in-vitro (in test tubes) and when taken orally by lab animals, and not when used topically as you would normally. In fact, a 2004 follow-up study to examine the estrogenic effect of sunscreens when used topically on the whole body found that "the endogenous levels of reproductive hormones were unaffected" (even though BP-3 could be detected both in plasma and urine, so its absorption is no doubt too good).
If that was not enough, Wikipedia claims that BP-3 is nowadays the most common allergen found in sunscreens, and the always-trustworthy smartskincare writes that "[benzophenones] have been shown in some studies to promote the generation of potentially harmful free radicals".
On the up side, sunscreens are pretty well regulated in several parts of the world, and BP-3 is considered "safe as used" and is an allowed sunscreen agent everywhere. It can be used in concentrations of up to 10% in the EU and up to 6% in the US.
Overall, BP-3 is probably our least favorite sunscreen agent and we prefer sunscreens without it. However, if you find a formula that you love and contains BP-3, we do not think that you should throw it away. A sunscreen with BP-3 is definitely better than no sunscreen.
4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor is a chemical sunscreen agent that protects in the UVB range (290-320 nm) with a peak absorbance at 301 nm. It is an oil-soluble powder that is slightly photo-unstable (it takes 65 minutes to lose 10% of its protecting power and 345 minutes to lose half of it), but it can still help to stabilize the famously unstable UVA filter, avobenzone.
Regarding its safety, we do not have the best news. Two possible concerns are that it absorbs into the body and might have some estrogenic activity there. But do not panic, the latter one was only shown in rats and is probably not the case in humans, and 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor is considered safe as used. It is legally approved both in the EU and Australia up to 4%, however, it is not approved in the US and in Japan.
Overall, we think there are better UVB filter choices out there than this guy, but if your favorite sunscreen contains it, you should probably just continue to use it.
The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.
Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) showing that when exposed to sunlight, MP treated skin cells suffered more harm than non-MP treated skin cells. The study was not done with real people on real skin but still - using a good sunscreen next to MP containing products is a good idea. (Well, in fact using a sunscreen is always a good idea. :))
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