SG’s Unseen Sunscreen: Should You Buy Sunscreen with Avobenzone?
FIRST HOW SUNSCREEN WORKS
Sunscreens protect against sunburn, skin photoaging, and skin cancer during sun exposure by blocking out radiation from the sun. The portions of sunlight responsible for sunburn, skin photoaging and skin cancer is called ultraviolet radiation, specifically ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation.
Remember the electromagnetic spectrum?
UVA rays make up about 90% of the UV rays that reach the earth and are present at the same strength all year around. UVA rays also penetrate deeper layers of the skin than UVB rays. UVB rays are often noted for their ability to cause damage to the top layers of the skin resulting in sunburn. It is important to have a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB.
As an esthetician I know how important it is to wear sunscreen everyday to prevent photoaging, reduce skin cancer risks and unwanted pigmentation. However, no matter how much I learned about sunscreen and how important it is for my skin, I dreaded putting on sunscreen because of the way it feels and makes me look… ashy, chalky, meet casper the friendly ghostly. However, I can’t let sunscreen hold me back from preventing hyperpigmentation, my skin has come too far! So I wrote out what I needed in a sunscreen in order to use it every day and started my search for my perfect sunscreen.
WHAT I NEED IN A SUNSCREEN PRODUCT TO USE IT DAILY
Great protection against UV rays -> A Broad Spectrum SPF above 30
Non-Greasy, No Sticky Feeling and No-Pilling
People of Color Friendly = No White Residue
Easily Accessible (Available In a Store I Can Go To)
With an abundance of sunscreen research available a seemingly easy choice became a research project. In the end I did finally make a decision but first here’s what I learned about sunscreen. On the internet, it seems like ‘natural, organic, physical, chemical-free’ sunscreens are the safest to use. However, all of these descriptors are marketing terms. Let’s go one by one:
Natural and Organic: There are no regulations on the words natural and organic in cosmetics. It could mean whatever the product manufacturer wants. If anything these words caused me more confusion and fruitless research, tbh.
“Physical Sunscreen”: According to the mainstream web, there are two types of sunscreen: “physical” and “chemical”. Sunscreens with Zinc and Titanium oxides are commonly called physical sunscreen. Sunscreens with Avobenzone, Octisalate, and Homosalate are commonly called chemical sunscreens. However, this is misleading because no matter what ingredients are in a sunscreen product they are all physical (you can touch them all and more importantly they all take up space) AND everything around us is a chemical. Water is a chemical (H2O) and wet.
“Chemical-Free”: Again, all things around us are chemicals. Grr, marketing!
Disregarding marketing labels, I ended up falling for SuperGoop’s Unseen Sunscreen. It literally has everything I want in a sunscreen.
Check it out for yourself! ↓
It’s amazeballs, right?! However, I had to ruin my excitement by googling further into the ingredients. In a majority of my search results I found warnings that sunscreens with avobenzone are potentially ineffective due to their lack of photostability; this basically means when you go out in the sun with your sunscreen on the sun will degrade its effectiveness and essentially make your sunscreen useless. However, many articles didn’t mention how long it actually takes for the sunscreen to degrade; is it seconds, minutes, hours? Being the over dramatic nerd I am, I went to the library to gain access to some science journals for more information because this sunscreen was too amazing to let go that easy.
So here’s what I learned about avobenzone and why you shouldn’t drop sunscreen with it too fast..
AVOBENZONE (Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane)
Avobenzone is an ultraviolet A filter that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the U.S. in 1992. Today it is still one of the most commonly used sunscreen ingredients, globally. Here’s a display of the UV radiation avobenzone protects against versus the other sunscreen active ingredients available in SuperGoop’s Unseen Sunscreen.
Avobenzone provides protection primarily from harmful UVA rays by absorbing those rays and converting them to energy that is less damaging to the skin. However, because avobenzone breaks down in the presence of sunlight, looking at the figure above, you may realize that if avobenzone degrades quickly after going out into the sun, Supergoop’s sunscreen would be pretty useless.
But don’t return your sunscreen too fast. Since it is known that avobenzone breaks down in the presence of sunlight, many sunscreen formulations combine it with other ingredients, known as photo-stabilizers, help to prevent UV filters from losing their effectiveness in sunlight.
Some of them help to stabilize UV filter molecules structurally and geometrically, which makes them less likely to take part in chemical reactions. Another type of photostabilizer protects UV filters by helping to dissipate the energy from UV rays more quickly, thus reducing or even eliminating the possibility of a chemical reaction. This process is called energy transfer. In this way, the UV filters are freed up to do their job of protecting the skin by absorbing the harmful rays, while the photostabilizers do the work of disposing of the energy.
Thankfully, SuperGoop uses a photostabilizer called diethylhexyl syringylidene malonate, or DESM for short, to recover avobenzone as it degrades; score! (￣▽￣)ノ.
In a study conducted by DSM Nutritional Products, researchers found several effective options to stabilize avobenzone. Although, DESM was not the best photo-stabilizer, it isn’t the worst either. In this study, DESM was able to stabilize avobenzone (BMDBM) and reach up to 80% photostability after the samples were exposed to 25 MED of solar-simulated light.
Octocrylene (OC) was the best stabilizer since it was shown to stabilize avobenzone almost completely.
What’s MED? MED is the shortest exposure time to ultraviolet radiation that produces reddening of the skin. MED varies person to person and with radiation intensity.
In the end, SuperGoop’s photostability and overall sun protection probably isn’t terrible but it isn’t the best... While doing research I learned that octinoxate, the most widely used UVB absorber, can increase avobenzone degradation. In the presence of the sun, Avobenzone + Octinoxate = creates a new chemical that does not protect from UV radiation, (︶︹︺). So although avobenzone is stabilized in the sun by DESM, the amount of avobenzone AND octinoxate available to protect you from the sun WILL decrease overtime during sun exposure. How fast? Will it give you enough protection for two hours? I’m not sure. I haven’t found many studies stating how fast this reaction occurs and I need time away from my rabbit hole of research this week.
My next sunscreen list will probably get a little more specific once I run out of SuperGoop, however, it’s a battle for another day. I hope this helps someone spend less hours researching sunscreen and more time enjoying the sun happily protected on a sandy white beach. Would I buy supergoop again? The verdict lies in the data.
For those wondering…Are there any health hazards associated with avobenzone?
The FDA has declared avobenzone safe to use in U.S. sunscreens in concentrations up to 3 percent, although formulas containing avobenzone may become toxic if used too often or in large doses. While there are few side effects believed to be associated with avobenzone itself, it may cause allergic reactions in some people; however, these reactions occur less frequently with avobenzone than with other sunscreen ingredients.
In a 2005 study, researchers examined the penetration and retention of five commonly used sunscreen agents (avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, oxybenzone and padimate O) in human skin after application in mineral oil to isolated human epidermal membranes. The results indicated that concentrations of each sunscreen found in human skin after topical application were at least five times lower than levels that could potentially cause toxicity.
While studies have demonstrated it may be absorbed by the body and secreted into urine, there is insufficient evidence to suggest avobenzone poses health risks in humans. Avobenzone absorption has not been studied in children or pregnant women, so parents and parents-to-be may wish to consider other sunscreen ingredients.
Frequently asked questions about avobenzone, https://www.aad.org/practicecenter/managing-a-practice/media-relations-toolkit/dermatology-issues-in-the-news/frequently-asked-questions-about-avobenzone
Imperfect Protection: EWG’s analysis of UV protection offered by U.S. sunscreens, https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/imperfect-protection/
Sunscreen vs. Photostabilizer, https://www.cosmeticsandtoiletries.com/formulating/category/suncare/10377137.html
The Quest for Avobenzone Stabilizers and Sunscreen Photostability, https://www.cosmeticsandtoiletries.com/formulating/category/suncare/premium-the-quest-for-avobenzone-stabilizers-and-sunscreen-photostability-214405251.html
Bonda C. The photostability of organic sunscreen actives: a review. In: Sunscreens: Regulations and Commercial Development, 3rd Ed. Shaath N (ed). 2005, Taylor & Francis: Boca Raton. pp. 321-349.