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Everything you need to know about sunscreen

The following is a Practical Field Guide to Choosing + Using Sunscreen Effectively from Founder + CEO of Raw Elements sunscreen, Brian A. Guadagno, a former lifeguard. We think they really know their stuff!

Your old sunscreen is not safe

In February of 2019, the FDA issued its most significant proposed regulatory ruling to sunscreens in some 30 years. The overarching target of this update is ‘to bring sunscreens up to date with the latest science to better ensure consumers have access to safe and effective sun care options.” While there has been a great deal of growing concern about chemical SPF ingredients in recent years, this is a large sound off now from the FDA that they share the concern. Specifically, of the 16 approved SPF ingredients, they declared only two as GRASE (generally regarded as safe and effective). Those two are the minerals Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. The other 14 are made up of chemical UV filters, all of which have been declared either Non GRASE or no longer considered GRASE and seeking more data.

In May of 2019, the FDA released the studies that they based their safety concerns on. The studies show conclusively that common chemical sunscreen ingredients seep through the skin into the bloodstream after only a couple hours. These chemicals persist in the blood for up to seven days and exceed, by up to 40 times, the FDA allowed limits. 

While these chemical ingredients have been used in sunscreens for decades, today the FDA stands concerned for public health. “Since the initial evaluation of these products, we know much more about the effects of the sun and about sunscreen’s absorption through the skin. Sunscreen usage has changed, with more people using these products more frequently and in larger amounts. At the same time, sunscreen formulations have evolved as companies innovated. Today’s action is an important step in the FDA’s ongoing efforts to take into account modern science to ensure the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. The FDA is using a 90-day period to review science submitted by industry to further evaluated before its final monograph ruling in November 2019. 

We know conclusively that SPF chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate and others are responsible for causing bleaching to our coral reefs. For years they have also been linked to a slew of human health issues, as they are hormone and endocrine disruptors. For summer 2019, the FDA has finally confirmed these concerns and can no longer stand behind their safety profiles.

While this is the most significant proposed ruling, there are some others. Many felt FDA did not go far enough in restricting sprays or capping SPF numbers. Here is the summary proposal full list:

  • Only SPF ingredients mineral Zinc Oxide and mineral Titanium Dioxide are GRASE
  • Only dosage forms lotions, oils, creams, butters, sticks, sprays gels and ointments are regarded as safe and recognized. Powders are not yet. Other forms of SPF like wipes, body washes, towelettes, etc are not permitted
  • Raise max allowed SPF claim from SPF 50+ to SPF 60+
  • Requires all sunscreens over SPF 15 to meet Broad Spectrum protection requirements
  • New label requirements to show the active Ingredients on the front label as well as skin cancer warnings on front label
  • FDA to clarify its expectations on record and test keeping for sunscreen entities
  • Bug Repellent / Sunscreen combos are not GRASE

For 2019, the FDA’s acknowledgement of the concerns with chemical sunscreen ingredients will raise awareness and ultimately help consumers become educated on what to (and what not to) look for in SPF products. Choosing the right sunscreen is critically important.  Knowing how and when to use sunscreen effectively is just as important in order to ensure the SPF protection one is seeking.

It’s also killing our coral reefs

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.” – Brian A. Guadagno, Founder + CEO of Raw Elements

“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

Choose products that will be protecting both yourself and the ocean.

How to choose your sunscreen

  1. Choose Broad Spectrum Non Nano Zinc Oxide protection. There are presently still 16 FDA approved active ingredients in sunscreen. While many of these offer UVB protection, only four offer any UVA protection. Zinc Oxide is the only single, broad spectrum active. Non Nano Zinc Oxide is a mineral that physically blocks the entire range of UVA & UVB. Non Nano Zinc Oxide sits on top of skin, is large enough to not absorbed as the others and is a non skin irritant. Look for Non Nano Zinc Oxide percentages to be over 18% and ideally the only active ingredient. Non Nano Zinc Oxide is reef safe.  Titanium Dioxide does not cover the full range of UVA radiation by itself.
  • Use Broad Spectrum SPF 30, beware of lower or higher numbers. It is a widely accepted that Broad Spectrum SPF 30 is the benchmark needed to provide adequate UVB & balanced UVA protection. In FDA mandated testing, SPF 30 sunscreens filter 97% of UVB rays while SPF 50 only filters 1% more at 98% and SPF 100 would only offer 2% more at 99%. In real life application, however, it is very unlikely that filtering more than 97% of UVB rays is plausible. Furthermore, extremely high SPF claims provide a false sense of security, double or triple the amount of chemicals and skin absorption while risking excessive UVA exposure.
  • Choose ʻWater Resistant 80 Minutesʼ, a proven track record, & avoid spray on products. The term ‘Water Resistant 80 Minutes’ is regulated by the FDA. It represents a sunscreenʼs ability to remain effective after 80 minutes exposure to water. ‘Waterproof’ and ‘All Day Protection’ claims are misleading and not allowed.  A product that is Water Resistant 80 Minutes will likely offer better sweat resistance as well. Ultimately, a Water Resistant 80 Minutes sunscreen that has performed well for you in the past is a wise choice in the future. Avoid sprays or powder sunscreens at all costs.  These applicators expel excess amounts of chemical ingredients which immediately become lung inhalants and pose a health hazard.  Additionally, these chemicals go airborne and indiscriminately pollute the environment.  Furthermore it is nearly impossible to determine the correct dosage application and quite often skin coverage is not effective. 

How to use sunscreen effectively

  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 UVB and UVA rays cause skin cancer.
  • Apply more than enough. In order for sunscreen to be 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.  Apply enough to leave an even, visible film over desired coverage area, then rub in to the desired look.
  • 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.  Non Nano Zinc Oxide, as a physical barrier 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 ʻWater Resistantʼ a formula claims to be, it is wise to reapply after any water exposure, sweating, or towel drying. Applying early and reapplying often will give the sunscreen the best chance to perform effectively.

Sun protection tips

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.

Understanding UV rays

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.

Ingredients banned in eco-marine reserves

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

Now all you’ve got to do is shop our Raw Elements sunscreens, safe for all ages with the ultimate water and sweat performance, and you can hit the road ready to protect yourself and our planet.

We love they’re committed to making a difference and have the certifications to prove it, from Non-GMO Project Approved to Leaping Bunny Certified (no animal testing), EWG #1 Rated, Natural Products Association Certified and more!