STEM Tuesday: Sunscreen

I think she looked at me, Bro
What are these twins discussing? I bet it’s not sunscreen.

Everyone seems to wear sunscreen these days. Next to everyone knows UVA and UVB rays contribute to skin cancer.  That’s especially important to fairer than fair people like me.  (Someone once told me I look like a ghost on the beach.)

Lots of cosmetics have sunscreen as part of the formula.  I know my BB Cream does. But what’s in that sunscreen, and what happens to it when it washes off when we go swimming? Where does all that sunscreen go? And what does it do to the environment?

The two basic ingredients that every sunscreen should have Chemical Blocks and Physical Blocks. Chemical blocks prevent sunlight from penetrating the sunscreen block and entering the skin. [tweetthis]Chemical blocks are also absorbed into the skin. [/tweetthis]Physical blocks are not absorbed into the skin. When sunlight hits the physical block, it is reflected and bounces away from the skin. Some of the ingredients contained in chemical sunblock designed to prevent UVB radiation include:

  • Cinnamates
  • OMC (Octyl Methoxycinnamate)
  •  Ethylhexyl p-Methoxycinnamate
  • Salicylates
  • OCS (Octyl Salicytate)
  • Homomenthyl Salicylate
  • Triethanolamine
  • PABA (Para Aminobenzoic Acid)
  • Padimate O
  • Padimate A
  • Glyceryl Aminobenzoate
  • Octyl Dimethyl Paba
  • Octocrylene
  • Zinc Oxide
  • Titanium Oxide

The ingredients that are used to absorb UVA radiation include:

  • Benzoophenones
  • Oxybenzone
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Avobenzone

That’s a lot of chemicals getting absorbed into the skin.  Plus, while the UV rays are bad guys where cancer is concerned, they are a necessary component for our bodies to make Vitamin D. We need Vitamin D for strong bones. We don’t need much sunshine to get enough for adequate Vitamin D; 5 minutes of sunshine a couple of days of week should do it. I remember my 7th grade science teacher explaining that we can get enough Vitamin D if we stick our arm out the window once a day for the length of time it takes to sing the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

[tweetthis]Up to 6600 tons of sunscreen wash into coastal waters each year. [/tweetthis] When titanium oxides mix with water and sun, they form hydrogen peroxide. That kills phytoplankton that nourish fish and, ultimately, the rest of the food chain. Manufacturers work to formulate something that’s less harmful to the environment.

So what do you do are a fair-skinned maid like me?  I don’t want skin cancer.  I don’t want wrinkles. (Okay, I don’t want any more, any sooner.) I don’t even want a sunburn.

visit solartex at

There’s a simple, low-tech solution.  The physical blocks don’t get absorbed into the skin. So why not capitalize on physical blocks? Many parents already see the wisdom of physical blocks. Just cover up.  Solartex makes a full line of protective clothing for the whole family.  Some of my grandchildren wear these at the beach. The suits are comfortable and cool.  They wick water away a lot faster than some of the conventional trunk suits for boys or skirted suits for girls. Hats are great for protecting the face, the most vulnerable area.  Think about it, your face is exposed to the sunlight every time you go outside during daylight hours; no matter what time of the year it is. ( I can only wish that Solartex asked me to endorse their product.  Nope. It’s my feeble to them.)

National geographic featured skin cancer in Australia, many, many years ago.  The tasteful picture of a man holding his prosthetic nose in his hand was enough to get me on the protection bandwagon. I wear my SPF BB Cream every day. And I cover up. That’s probably a good thing for everyone.