Terms we should know and understand:
UVB rays. These are the rays that burn. (B=burn) This is what the SPF rating is talking about, the UVB rays ONLY. Too much UVB and burning can lead to certain types of skin cancer. Currently, in the United States, to claim to be a sunscreen, your product only needs to block UVB rays. Many brands are choosing to include more protection...
UVA rays. These are the aging rays. (A=age) Most importantly, the UVA rays are the ones that can penetrate the skin and affect your cells directly. Not only do UVA rays cause harm by themselves, but it appears that they can push along the effects of the UVB. Europeans are demanding that their products contain some sort of UVA protection as well as UVB. Once again, the US is behind the times and it has to do with the FDA approval process. Regardless of the FDA, there are many brands that have ingredients that block UVA rays and it will probably say so on the package. I'll address this in the ingredients list below.
Ingredients to avoid:
Taken from http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/103/sunscreens (I added the bold because they were ingredients I recognized readily from my research)
• Benzophenone (benzophenone-3), homosalate, and octy-methoxycinnamate (octinoxate): These chemicals are of more concern because they have shown estrogenic activity in lab tests.
• Padimate-O and Parsol 1789 (2-ethylhexyl-4-dimethylaminobenzoic acid and avobenzone): These two chemicals have the potential to damage DNA when illuminated with sunlight. On the skin's surface, these chemicals do protect from UV damage; however, once absorbed into the skin, these same chemicals can prove destructive.
http://www.thegoodhuman.com/2007/06/21/what-are-parabens-and-why-should-you-avoid-them/ According to this article, parabens can really mess with your hormones. I was excited to find several fairly inexpensive sunscreens until the list of inactive ingredients had up to 5 different parabens. Yikes! AND, one regular version didn't have any, but the baby formula had 3. One company's sensitive skin formula and baby formula had identical ingredients. Don't be fooled by marketing techniques!
Avobenzone. Absorbs the UVA rays. This is listed above that there is the possible risk that once it reacts with the sun and is absorbed into the skin it can cause cell damage.
Oxybenzone. Absorbs the UVB rays.
Helioplex. Is really just a fancy name for the process of combining Avobenzone and Oxybenzone and making it chemically stable. Whether or not the 2 ingredients are stable without the heliplex technology is beyond my scope of understanding. There are several sunscreens available with both, but Neutrogena is the proud owner of the Helioplex technology.
The key to understanding the above ingredients is that they ABSORB the rays, they do not block them. They work through a chemical reaction with the sun rays to deflect or reflect the UVA and/or UVB rays. There are only 2 sun "blocks" that actually create a physical barrier between your skin and the ultraviolet rays.
Titanium dioxide. The best I can tell from this site:
is that titanium dioxide is OK as long as it is not "micronized" or presented in a nanoparticle form (that would be less than 100nanometres). Basically, the smaller the particle, the easier it is to absorb in the skin, penetrate the cells, and possibly cause mutation and then cancer. This site uses titanium dioxide in their organic skin care products but has refused a number of requestst to use the micronized version. I have no idea how to determine the size of the particles being used in the different sunscreens on the market.
Zinc Oxide: this is the same ingredient used in Desitin for diaper rash. The same nanoparticle concern is apparent for zinc oxide as was true for titanium dioxide. For me, this puts the 2 equally as potent (good and bad) on the ingredient list.
Here are the products:
(listed in no particular order)
Blue Lizard: Has the good stuff in varying degrees. The BabySPF30 has 10% zinc oxide and 5% titanium dioxide which is fabulous. At $9.95/5oz it is reasonable in price. It does contain parabens so I wouldn't use it on a continual basis, but might recommend it for a super day at the beach.
So what will I be using?!
Something I did not address at all was the texture of the products. I believe that the "blocking" products are more difficult to rub in and thicker. That is what makes them good. Please give me your feedback as you try them so we all can know without wasting our all-mighty dollar. I worry that the newer zinc oxide and titanium dioxide products that are not as white as they used to be are easier to use because of the nano-technology which is bad for us.