Do You Know What the Ingredient List Means?

If a list of ingredients on a food label has long words that I don’t understand, I figure I don’t want to buy the product. Of course, if it has tons of sugar or salt, that’s another reason. But the excess sugar or salt is not applicable to the analogy that I’m going to propose. So I’ll stick with the long words. I’m pretty sure I eat too much sugar regardless of what labels say. But that’s another story.

Considering which sunscreen to buy based on the ingredients

Along the same lines of food labeling, if a label on a sunscreen product has long words that I don’t understand, I’m not going to buy it. And I’m sad to say that I spent some money on some of those products, as many of us have done because that’s what was offered. The question is, do you use or throw out those sunscreens with the list of long words that few can understand? What about the moisturizer with sunscreen in it? I just picked up one from a shelf in my bathroom cabinet and looked at it. It’s an “oil-free moisturizer with broad-spectrum SPF 35” by one of my favorite brands, Neutrogena.

I took a deeper dive

But let's look at these active ingredients in this Neutrogena moisturizer: Avobenzone 3%, Homosalate 12%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 2.35%, Oxybenzone 6%. And what about the inactive ingredients? Those include water, dimethicone, diethylhexyl 2, 6-naphthalate, glycerin, trisiloxane, potassium cetyl phosphate, glyceryl stearate, PEG-100 stearate, cetearyl alcohol, caprylyl methicone, behenyl alcohol, styrene/acrylates copolymer, benzyl alcohol, ethylhexylglycerin, methylparaben, cetearyl glucoside, xanthan gum, propylparaben, disodium EDTA, BHT, methylisothiazolinone.

Did you understand any of that?

If you're anything like me, probably not. Besides water, do you know what any of that means? I do know that In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration found that only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide could be classified as safe and effective ingredients for use in sunscreen. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group explains, “The ingredients oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and avobenzone are all systemically absorbed into the body after one use.”1

So what does that mean?

The report continues, “This constant exposure to sunscreen chemicals raises concerns… We have even more concerns about ingredients such as oxybenzone, which have been linked to hormone disruption by numerous studies.”

Where do we find pure-zinc sunscreen?

It’s easy to buy sunscreen with either pure zinc or zinc and titanium dioxide. My dermatologist gave me this tip: The baby aisle is a good place to be sure of finding zinc-based sunscreen. You can of course find it in other places. The unanswered question is: Is the other stuff bad enough to throw out?

Not necessarily

The American Academy of Dermatology writes: “While the FDA is asking for more data, it does not say that the ingredients are unsafe. It does not ask the public to stop using sunscreens that contain any of these ingredients.”2

Weighing the options

These products are not cheap. It kind of hurts to throw them out. It’s a personal decision. I for one decided to keep that Neutrogena only long enough to look at the bottle to write this story. I have enough health problems without worrying about what sunscreen chemicals are doing to me. Then I’m going to say goodbye to that and any others on the questionable list.

I'm sticking with mineral sunscreens

I liked the sample that I got at the dermatologist’s office of Neutrogena’s Healthy Defense daily moisturizer with sunscreen, SPF 50. I used it up and got a larger tube. The active ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The AAD explains that these physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, sit on the surface of your skin and “act like a shield” to deflect the sun’s rays. Meaning they don’t get absorbed.

Let me be clear though: If I am someplace where only a chemical-based sunscreen is available, I’m not going to freak out. I’d rather use it than invite more damage to my skin.

What factors do you consider when choosing which sunscreen to buy?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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