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How safe is sun cream?

Feb 3, 2020 - 0 comments

Alarming discoveries about sun cream

“You’re not heading out the door this morning without putting on your sunscreen!” A metronomic routine nag that may sound familiar in the early morning preparation hustle ahead of the school run. The protection of sun cream as surety against the negative effects of sun exposure is something that has been repeatedly taught to us with emphatic caution.

However, new findings are challenging us to approach sunscreen with caution.

A January 2020 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study has recently published that “chemical sunscreen ingredients are systematically absorbed after one application, and some ingredients can stay in the blood for up to 3 weeks.” How many of us really know what chemical compounds make up the sun cream we guardedly lather ourselves in every day?

The study tested 6 key chemicals in sunscreen:

  • Avobenzone
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • Octisalate
  • Octinoxate

For those of us who are not chemists, these chemicals could largely be summed up as difficult-to-pronounce words all ending in suffixes ‘-one’, ‘-ene’ and ‘-ate!’


What the study proved however, was that each chemical was:

  • Readily absorbed into the subjects’ bloodstream immediately after application
  • In concentrations that exceeded the FDA safety threshold
  • The key chemicals tested are all artificial, laboratory-made toxic substances that can be harmful to our systems, placing extra detoxification loads on our lymphatic systems, causing inflammation and dysfunction in key organs in the body. Oxybenzone for example mimics estrogen in the body and has been linked in studies to abnormal sperm function and endometriosis in women. This compound has been banned in the state of Hawaii as it was found to bleach and destroy the coral reefs– a devastating impact on our precious ecosystems.

This is cause for great concern.


Whilst the American Food & Drug Administration is working to improve sunscreen regulations to protect public health, this is still in progress. Arguably, third world countries such as South Africa, will take longer to yield concern and institute policy that pharmaceutical companies are regulated to adhere to for effectiveness and safety.

All is not doom and gloom however. There are safer sun care options that you can adopt if you are aware of a couple of key factors:

  • The ideal sun management routine is to try and get 10 minutes direct skin exposure to the sun, with no sunscreen, every day. Just 10 minutes like this can product 10 000 units of vital vitamin D
  • There is no perfect sunscreen. We can however look for safer options or manage our exposure wisely
  • No sunscreen will last longer than 2 hours so re-application of the better sunscreen products is key
  • The best sunscreens to look out for are organic sunscreens with natural, mineral-based ingredients– often the ones made for children are best. The EWG’s sunscreen database notes that mineral sunscreens tend to block UVA better than chemical-based sun creams
  • Consider making your own, natural, biodegradable sun cream. We’ve listed a recipe below
  • Dr Josh Axe notes that its best to try and stay clear of spray sunscreens as these are difficult to apply in any protective layer and results in inhalation into the lungs
  • Be cautious of misleading marketing claims such as ‘waterproof’ and ‘complete sun/ age shield.’ These statements innocuously reassure us with perceived complete protection, but this is simply not possible
  • Good vitamin D levels are critical for good body function. Deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to depression, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, cancers and heart disease. If you do not get sufficient sun exposure, it is important to consult your medical practitioner to test your vitamin D levels, supplement if necessary and consume foods high in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is now a worldwide epidemic
  • It is important to avoid continued, prolonged sun exposure during peak times of the day (12h00 – 14h00)
  • Sun cream should be used as a last resort. Responsible exposure together with ensuring your skin is covered with hats and clothing (outside of your ‘mandatory 10 minute window), is important. There are companies that now manufacture UV protection clothing and swim suits

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