Monday, August 26, 2013

Ingredient Controversy: Oxybenzone (Plus a Healthy Alternative!)

Hey, friends! I bring good news! College Beauty Buff is officially on a posting schedule! From now on, you can expect a new post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. How exciting! Now, on to today's post:

Author's Note, 9/20/14 - New research is always coming out, and I'm always learning new things, so I don't feel so strongly about this anymore. I will post an update on my feelings for oxybenzone in the future, but in the meantime, if you're going to be out in the sun for an extended period of time please wear a traditional sunscreen. Thank you. 

Summer is coming to an end, but that doesn't mean you can skimp on the sunscreen! Today I wanted to talk to you about a cool alternative I recently learned about from a friendly woman named Michelle. She works at a spa in upstate New York by the name of Skana, and she reached out to me to help spread the word about some of the harmful chemicals in sunscreen. Again, that doesn't mean you get a free ride and shouldn't wear sunscreen at all. However, that does mean you should be wary of what the active ingredients are in your sunscreen, and I'm here to help!

Vichy Capital Soleil SPF 30 Face & Body Creme

We all know that sun protection is important. Sun damage is the #1 cause of aging and wrinkles, so wearing sunscreen will keep your skin looking younger and healthier for longer. Sun exposure can cause permanent dryness, wrinkles, and discoloration on your skin over time. It takes about 10-20 years for the sun damage to which your skin was exposed to take effect, meaning that we have to protect our skin now so we have youthful-looking skin in our 30s and 40s. I know a 20-year delay time isn't exactly at the front of our minds all the time, but it's really important to protect your skin, and it's easy to do. However, it's not as simple as putting on any ol' sunscreen you can find. Some of the sunscreens on the market contain toxic chemicals can also be harmful to your skin. I know that sounds scary, but don't fret! I'm only here to be the bearer of bad news about one ingredient in your sunscreens: oxybenzone.

Vichy Capital Soleil SPF 30 Face & Body Creme - Ingredients List
If you check the "active ingredients" list on the label of sunscreens, you'll find that oxybenzone is a common ingredient, in both drugstore and high-end products. The Vichy sunscreen above retails for about $30, and it still contains unhealthy chemicals. This is unfortunate for many reasons, one of which because of the fact that it only protects the skin against short UVA/UVB waves, leaving your skin completely unprotected against long wave radiation. In addition, when the oxybenzone in the sunscreen is absorbed into your skin, it emits free radicals.

What are free radicals? Free radicals are atoms or molecules (hope you didn't fall asleep in Chemistry!) with an unpaired electron in the outer shell. What does this mean for your skin? Well, free radicals are highly reactive and unstable, and it is said that people age quicker when skin cells absorb these free radicals over time. Thankfully, the antioxidants in our body, like superoxide dismutase and vitamin E. naturally remove free radicals over time. However, our bodies can only do so much, so if the free radicals we are exposed to becomes overwhelming, it becomes too much for our bodies to handle, and the abundance can cause permanent damage to your skin cells. This is also why it's important to treat your skin with products that contain antioxidants and vitamins. One that I'm loving right now is the Seventh Generation Boosts Soothing Skin Serum, but anything helps!

In addition, oxybenzone also has a tendency to mimic estrogen (and similar chemicals) in the body. It can affect the endocrine system and ruin the balance between estrogen and progesterone, causing the estrogen to dominate. This can lead to a whole slew of problems, from weight gain, extra water retention, and a higher rate of visible aging. 

Don't worry; this sounds scary, but there are plenty of alternatives. The first is to simply look at the ingredients list before you buy a sunscreen. If you don't see oxybenzone on the list, you're good to go! If you're looking for something a little more natural, here's a recipe for a sunscreen that Michelle uses as often as she can. 

Many plant-based oils have an SPF (sun protection factor) similar to chemical sunscreens you can buy in the store, such as raspberry oil, carrot oil, and wheat germ oil. They contain ingredients that not only provide UV protection, but also moisturize the skin. 

  • 1oz. red raspberry seed oil - this has a natural SPF of about 28
  • 1oz. coconut oil - this has a natural SPF of 4-10
  • 1oz. beeswax - this will make the mixture thicker so it's easier to apply. It also helps make the sunscreen more water-resistant.  
  • 5-10 drops of an essential oil - optional, for scent only
  1. Bring a pan of water to a boil
  2. Place all ingredients into a glass bowl and set it on top of the pan of boiling water to melt all ingredients together.
  3. Allow mixture to cool
  4. Store in a cool, dry place or your refrigerator

This mixture is only good for about a week, since it does contain only natural, organic ingredients. Also, be sure to reapply every two hours, or after going in the water (or sweating excessively). 

I haven't gotten a chance to try this yet, since school has begun for me and I'm already back to living indoors (welcome to the realm of theatre). However, next time I plan to be outdoors for a long period of time (after all, you want to get 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a day to get some vitamin D), I'm really excited to try this out! I am a little worried about the cost-effectiveness, as organic oils are expensive, but this is also much safer and healthier than harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone, so I will try to make it a priority in the future. Nothing is more important than your health!

Another quick alternative sunscreen is the following from Wellness Mama:
  1. Grab a bottle of your favorite lotion - as long as it doesn't contain citrus oils
  2. Add a few tablespoons of zinc oxide - zinc oxide is a popular ingredient in physical sunscreens. Unlike chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens and chemicals like zinc oxide do not sink into the skin, but rather provide a physical barrier over the skin to protect it. 
  3. Mix well, and voila! Super-fast sunscreen! 
Well, that's everything! I hope this post was helpful to you. I know I learned a lot. Thanks so much to Michelle for all of her help! 

What do you think of a DIY sunscreen? Would you ever use it?

Disclaimer: Michelle and the Skana Spa experts provided me with the wonderful skincare expertise and sunscreen recipe. Lucky magazine sent me the Seventh Generation Skin Serum as part of the All Natural Style Secrets community challenge, but I'm including it in this post because I'm really in love with it. 

Sources & More Information: 

Baral, Dr. Jim. "What Are Free Radicals?" IVillage. IVillage, 19 July 2001. Web. 25 Aug. 2013. 

Environmental Working Group. "The Trouble With Sunscreen Chemicals." The Trouble With Sunscreen Chemicals EWG's 2013 Guide to Sunscreens. Environmental Working Group, 2013. Web. 25 Aug. 2013. 

Hanson Kerry M.; Gratton Enrico; Bardeen Christopher J. (2006). "Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin". Free Radical Biology and Medicine 41 (8): 1205–1212 

Lam, Michael, MD, MPH. "Estrogen Dominance." Estrogen Dominance. Dr. Lam, 2013. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.

McDougall, Andrew. "Fruit Oil Trend down to Berry Good..." CosmeticsDesign.com USA. CosmeticsDesign.com USA, 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Aug. 2013. .

Wang SQ, Tanner PR, Lim HW, Nash JF.( 2013). “The evolution of sunscreen products in the United States--a 12-year cross sectional study”. Photochem. Photobiol. Sci. 12 (1) pp. 197-202.

WebMD. "Sun Exposure, Skin Cancer, and Other Sun Damage." WebMD. WebMD, 2013. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.

Wellness Mama. "Natural Homemade Sunscreen Recipe." Wellness Mama. Wellness Mama, 2011. Web. 25 Aug. 2013. .

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