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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:

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.

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.

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:

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:

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:

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!

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