What's up with Zinc Oxide?

July 24, 2016

I had this whole article planned out and I knew what I wanted to say but then I read this article that kinda bummed me out a little bit. As you know I only use natural, organic, green beauty products. When it comes to sunscreen that means I use products containing the safest sun blocking ingredients as possible. There are two - Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. Both are physical UV filters. I say the safest sun blocking ingredients as possible, but is that really true?

Hmm, not sure how to go on with this, my mind is all over the place. Let me start by saying that I'm no expert. This is just me sharing what I know and what I've read. I've been chatting with one of my lovely readers and she mentioned how Zinc Oxide was banned in European Union in 2009. I didn't know that and I did some googling. It turns out Zinc Oxide isn't banned but it's only safe to use up to concentration of 25%. (link) I was like whaaat?! How come no one is talking about it?? I immediately checked my sunscreens. Then the beautiful Nic shared with me this article What's the best way to protect your skin from the sun?, written by Celestyna, the creator of Moss skincare. I highly recommend reading it.
As you know we have chemical and physical UV filters and the later are used in the green beauty community. But are they really safe and effective? Before diving in let me just say that I don't really talk about chemical UV filters here and how nasty they are. Don't think that I'm dissing Zinc Oxide (only a little) but I just wanted to shed some light on it. Chemical UV filters don't need that, I'm sure all of you have heard they are not all that safe to use. To say it mildly. So on to physical UV filters. There is a difference between the two. Titanium Dioxide doesn't cover the entire range of UV radiation like Zinc Oxide does and is also more prone to cause acne. As for the Zinc Oxide goes, it only gives UVA and UVB sun protection if it's non-nano. There is a wonderful explanation of that in the article but what stuck with me is that the larger the particle size, the better the broad spectrum UVA protection, but by no means is that guaranteed. UVA rays are not only more prone to cause photoaging than UVB, they are also as likely or more likely to create cancer-causing DNA damage. Also, there are studies that show with micronized and nano particles, absorption doesn't seem to be a cause for concern. News to me, but it's a great news so I'll take it. So what you can take from this is that A. physical filters are very safe to use and nontoxic to the body - no signs of absorption by the body (and they are also more photostable than chemical filters - another yay!) and B. a product has to contain non-nano Zinc Oxide for full UV protection. Sounds very good and I can thick all the boxes. BUT.


As I have mentioned, supposedly the use of non-nano zinc oxide in cosmetics is safe up to a maximum concentration of 25%. Usually in products there is less than that, but I would still write to brands and ask how much they use (if not stated). Just to be safe. Now as for the thing that blew my mind in Celestyna's article. Both Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, like chemical UV filters, are toxic to marine life! They can do all kinds of nasty things like damage the embryos of tiny sea creatures. Now are they AS toxic as Oxybenzone? (chemical UV filter, fyi) Doubtful but also, I. D. K. No one does. More studies need to be done! But just because your mineral sunscreen says “reef safe” don’t go feeling all high and mighty. It’s still NOT “100% marine life safe.” It is a massive bummer, to say the least! But don't take this as an excuse to still use sunscreens with chemical UV filters. I found this article where it's reported that nano zinc oxide (which is not only found in sunscreens but other beauty products too) make sea urchin embryos much more vulnerable to other environmental toxins. Nano-copper oxide found in boat paint has the same effect. I didn't find anything but supposedly non-nano Zinc oxide has the same effect. Or does it really?
After all of the above Celestyna then mentions holistic sun care - those who practice this are gradually increasing exposure time to allow the body to adjust naturally to sun rays, they don't use any UV filters on the skin but protect themselves with clothing and use natural oils and butters, and they also eat antioxidant rich food. Sounds great but even though some oils have been linked to sun protection, like Red Raspberry Seed, Carrot Seed, Cranberry Seed and Jojoba, after seeing this article I find that hard to believe.

Take what you will from this post but it looks like non-nano Zinc Oxide is still the way to go when it comes to sunscreen, at least for now. It's not perfect! but even with its flaws it's still a way, way better option than chemical UV filters (which are hormone disruptors, photounstable, have oxidation potential and inadequate UVA protection). Physical UV filters have better UVA protection than chemical UV filters (Sam Bunting thinks so too). After knowing that Zinc Oxide is not as reef-friendly as I thought it was, I'm reconsidering my use of sunscreens. Now I'm not saying I'm going all holistic on sun protection but eating more antioxidant rich food that helps to counteract free radicals pollutants and toxins generate, is a very good idea indeed. I'm still going to use my sunscreens with non-nano Zinc Oxide (some products even use uncoated Zinc Oxide, which is even better). But I'm going to be more mindful and not use it every single day - especially if I know I won't be going much out on the sun or if it's raining. A thought of washing my sunscreen off in the evening and that it eventually ends up in the ocean is not nice. That said I do find some comfort in that I only use it on my face and not all over my body. Of course vitamin D is really important! and staying in shade and covering yourself with a hat and all that, but due to skin cancer and vanity reasons (yes, I said it) I can't part with sunscreen. At least not at this moment in time.

There is much, much more that can be said about this topic, but this post is already too long so I will end it here. I hope I was somewhat clear and that you read something new and interesting.

Much love,

Jana xx
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