This particular one was the cheapest after sun product I found at the supermarket, however, it also had the fewest questionable ingredients. All other after sun lotions that I checked had a longer ingredient list, chock full of things, including the second-most expensive after-sun product on the shelf which is a lotion that contains a whopping 37 ingredients, more than anything else I looked at by more than double!
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Aqua, Polysorbate 20, Carbomer, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Alcohol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Hydroxide, Parfum, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, CI 19140, CI 42090.
This ingredients list starts out well with Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice and Aqua right at the top. These are two natural ingredients that should make up the majority of the product. From there though, it goes downhill. Before I go too far, I should probably note that even natural ingredients can have their downside. If this Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice contains non-decolorised whole leaf aloe vera, then it has been linked with cancer. If it is the decolorised version then it is safe. We don’t know from this ingredient list but it’s probably fair to assume it would be the decolorised version making it perfectly safe. Even so, men, maybe don’t drink it if you are planning on having children (if you are ever tempted to take a swig of your after-sun lotion or gel). The Cosmetic Ingredient Review found Aloe Barbadensis to cause sperm damage in rats and mice when ingested.
Polysorbate 20 and Carbomer are not natural, but they aren’t too bad either. That isn’t where it stops though. Phenoxyethanol, used as both a preservative and fragrance ingredient has been linked to contact uritica (hives) and dermatitis. It gets worse as we progress. Another form of alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol carries a hazardous chemical warning as a severe eye irritant and is harmful if swallowed or inhaled.
Next up is an unidentified alcohol followed by Diazolidinyl Urea, a formaldehyde releaser that acts as a preservative. Now, Diazolidinyl Urea is typically used in very small quantities and on its own is not that great, studies have found it to be an allergen and toxic to humans. The bigger concern, though, is what happens the longer that this product is unused. Diazolidinyl Urea slowly releases formaldehyde in a process called off-gassing in order to kill off microbes. You might recognise formaldehyde as a known carcinogen that carries an awful lot of warning labels including: fatal if inhaled, toxic if swallowed, toxic in contact with skin, causes severe skin burn and eye damage, may cause allergic skin reactions, may cause cancer by inhalation, and toxic to aquatic life. Even in small quantities, is that worth the risk? Thanks, but no thanks.
Moving on from that health scare…
Sodium Hydroxide is interesting. It’s considered safe in low quantities, but, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review report released in December 2015 found that Sodium Hydroxide causes eye irritation, skin water loss (that’s kind of bad when you are already burned, right?), and skin irritation. In fact, Sodium Hydroxide was noted in the report to be used as a positive control, in other words, it is used to cause skin irritation in order to test skin creams. So, while safe, could it actually be exacerbating your sunburn, encouraging you to use more of the product?
Parfum is next. Also known as fragrance. Like the unidentified alcohol earlier in the ingredients list, this doesn’t actually break down what the fragrance comes from, which is a worry. The Environmental Working Group gives parfum/fragrance an 8/10 where 10 is the most toxic of ingredients. Why? It’s not fully labelled so that is part of it, but studies have shown that “parfum” causes allergic reactions in adults and children, causes contact dermatitis and exacerbates asthma. Hmmm…
Almost to the end of the list! Tocopheryl Acetate is not rated particularly badly in the Environmental Working Group database and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review found that Tocopheryl Acetate can help prevent contact dermatitis and may have some photoprotective effects. It sounds a little bit like it is added to help overcome the effects of sodium hydroxide and parfum! However, while some photoprotective effects were reported by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, at least one study has found that Tocopheryl Acetate can “enhance” photocarcinogenesis (or cancer caused by light) in animals. So, this isn’t sounding great and there are still three more ingredients.
Panthenol. Ah, a breath of fresh air, so to speak. Panthenol is both naturally occurring and synthetically made vitamin B5. The ingredients list doesn’t specifically state which one it is, however, natural Panthenol should be labelled as D-Panthenol so it is most likely synthetic. Vitamin B5 serves as a skin conditioner and both the natural and synthetic versions are considered to be quite safe. But, what about those two numbered ingredients at the end of the list?
CI 19140 is a synthetic yellow colour and CI 42090 is a synthetic blue colour, combined to give the lotion a green colour. Both are considered safe in low concentrations, however, they have both been found to contribute to or cause skin allergies even at low dosages with more severe effects in higher concentrations. Yellow is linked to liver effects and hyperactivity in children, and both yellow and blue are connected to neurobehavioural effects and potential neurotoxicity. It’s unlikely that you’ll find such high concentrations in a consumer product, however, the risk is increased when CI 42090 (blue) is used on damaged skin, around the mouth, on the lips, or around the eyes, as these all increase the risk of absorption. Now, if you are using an after-sun cream on sun-burned skin, chances are your skin is damaged. Chances are also pretty high you are using it around your mouth, lips and eyes. I don’t know about you, but I usually just lather it all over my face!
Now, every after-sun lotion, gel or spray that I looked at in the supermarket has an ingredient list like this. Some are even longer. Only one product (the after sun gel below) had a shorter ingredient list, but it was still made up of many of these potentially harmful ingredients.