Are Sunscreen Ingredients in Europe Better Than Ours?

Are Sunscreen Ingredients in Europe Better Than Ours?
iStock/kajakiki

We are big time believers in using safe mineral sunscreens and there are many made right here in the U.S. But some Americans are purchasing sunscreens overseas that claim to have better protection. Are these European sunscreen ingredients are worth it?

We’ve been told for some time now that mineral sunscreen is the best defense against both UVA and UVB damage. More effective and safer than synthetic sunscreens.

But some new synthetic sunscreen ingredients are making a splash in Europe as better UVA filters. Optimum UVA protection isn’t the only point to consider when choosing sunscreen. Safety of the sunscreen to the body and environment is also important. Do these new sunscreen ingredients cover both?

Differences Between U.S. and E.U. Broad Spectrum Standards

Unless you’ve shunned all information on sunscreen over the past, oh, decade, you know that UVA protection is a big deal. SPF is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against sunburn, which is caused by UVB rays. UVA rays are responsible for skin damage and can lead to skin cancer. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

Not surprisingly, standards over UVA protection differ between the U.S. and Europe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all sunscreen manufacturers claiming broad spectrum protection to pass a critical wavelength test. At this time only two FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients (Avobenzone and zinc oxide) provide full UVA protection.

The European Union determines broad spectrum protection by the ratio of UVA to UVB protection, requiring one third of the SPF number to be UVA protection. There are seven EU-approved UVA filters currently being used in European sunscreens.

The New Synthetic Sunscreen Ingredients

Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M, Mexoryl SX (also known as Ecamsule) are seeing their time in the sunny spotlight. With healthy lifestyle advocates, like The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Mother Nature News (MNN), talking up these synthetic sunscreens it’s no wonder Americans are flocking to get their hands on these not yet FDA-approved ingredients.

Why would EWG back the use of synthetic sunscreen ingredients? As we’ve said before, the annual EWG Sunscreen Guide is a great resource for learning about sunscreens and sunscreen ingredients, but they are all about levels of protection and do not shy away from the use of synthetics, which have proven links to many health risks.

Of course, you want a sunscreen that provides effective broad spectrum protection. But some UVA filters may do more harm than good.

The two types of sunscreen ingredients that effectively filter UVA rays, mineral and synthetic, may do the same job, but go about it in different ways. Mineral sunscreen zinc oxide sits on top of skin, forming a barrier that reflects UV rays. Synthetic ingredients work by soaking into the skin, absorbing UV rays.

Synthetic v Natural Sunscreen Ingredients

As with all personal care and cosmetics, it’s not only about performance. Of course, sunscreen is not your ordinary beauty product. It is designed to protect the skin and sunscreen ingredients are classified as an over the counter drug in the U.S., unlike in Europe, where they are considered cosmetic ingredients. This is one reason it takes longer to get approval for new sunscreen ingredients here in the States.

The Sunscreen Innovation Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama at the end of November 2014, was intended to speed the approval of these new sunscreen ingredients. The law directed the FDA to review applications for eight European sunscreen molecules, including Tinosorb S, Tinosorb B, and Ecamsule.

“These ingredients are all UV filters which absorb and scatter damaging rays versus mineral blockers such as zinc oxide which prevent absorption all together. There have been no safety concerns found in any of the ingredients approved in Europe and these ingredients also have much broader protection in the UVA/UVB realms,” says Dr. Kristen Richards, a dermatologist at Torrey Pines Dermatology.

So far the FDA has rejected all eight molecules, though Ecamsule, marketed as Anthelios SX, has been approved for use in the U.S. since 2006 but only in certain concentrations and only in some L’Oreal products.

Dr. Richards goes on to say, “Until we can get broader approval of these superior and safe ingredients in the U.S., we must continue to practice good sun protection using broad spectrum ingredients such as zinc oxide and sun-protective clothing.”

Still, the importance of protection versus safety has to be weighed. If these new sunscreen ingredients truly offer increased protection against UVA rays, do you want a synthetic sunscreen and the risks that may go along with them?

Rebecca Hamilton, V.P. of Research and Product Development at Badger Balm believes that mineral sunscreen is the safer option. “A physical block, such as zinc oxide, is a better choice since the UV rays are mostly reflected, scattered or absorbed before they come in contact with living cell tissue vs with a chemical where the UV rays are neutralized in the middle layer of skin close to living cell tissue,” says Hamilton.

Bottom Line

The new E.U.-approved sunscreen ingredients may be more effective in preventing sun damage than the currently used synthetic sunscreen ingredients here in the U.S. But so are natural mineral sunscreen ingredients.

Mineral sunscreens are generally safe when used in non-nano form. They are naturally-sourced and biodegradable. Better for the health of humans, plant and animal life, and the environment.

There is no reason not to use mineral these days. They come without the greasy feel and glowing white skin, no stickiness or stained clothing.

Until thorough evidence shows these new synthetic UVA filters have no negative health effects and are safe for the environment, your safest bet is with mineral sunscreens.

Related on Organic Authority:
5 Natural Sun Damage Repair Saviors for Sun-Kissed Skin
Homemade Healing Chamomile Rose After-Sun Tonic
Sunburn Relief has Arrived: Best Natural After-Sun Products

Liz Thompson

Liz Thompson is an organic beauty expert who has been researching and writing on the subjects of natural beauty, health, and wellness for over 10 years. She specializes in sharing safe beauty products and her knowledge on healthy ingredients with her readers, and helping organic beauty brands and shop owners share their message and products with the world through her writing services.