I have heard the mineral and/or organic/natural sunscreens have higher heavy metal exposure levels, what’s the story here?
Heavy metal exposure concerns are rampant, especially online and there are many sites that use sensational scare-mongering to get you to read more. Lead is ubiquitous in our environment, but if exposure risk is low, there’s really no need to be concerned about it.
Zinc Oxide is a naturally occurring mineral (It’s called Zincite) and primary source of zinc metal, which as an ore often contains various other industrial heavy metals. However, the zinc oxide used in sunscreens is a very special and high purity compound, and is not just mined out of the ground. Zinc Oxide used in sunscreens must be of a very high purity – specified by the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP), a regulatory body that governs quality of materials used in medicines and cosmetics. Typically such Zinc Oxide is created anew from ultra high purity zinc metal in a specialized oven under extremely tightly controlled temperature and oxygen conditions. This results in Zinc Oxide that is nearly free of heavy metals and designed for use in sunscreens.
The limit for lead in USP Zinc Oxide is 5 ppm. Even at the maximum acceptable limit, which is typically significantly higher than what is actually present in USP Zinc Oxide, the real amount is much less. This is because it’s further diluted in a sunscreen, which reduces the amount present. For example, since our sunscreens are 25% zinc oxide, the actual concentration present in sunscreen even if the Zinc Oxide has the unlikely maximum level (which it never does according to the analysis), would be 1.25 ppm. If it can’t gain entry into your body, the exposure is even less and just not worth the worry.
If you’re really worried about lead exposure, we recommend looking at other sources that may elevate such exposure in ways worthy of concern.
Here are a few common household sources of exposure that are in our opinion much more likely to result in significant lead exposure compared to sunscreen:
Residential soil: The FDA limit for lead in the playground soil your kids enjoy is 400 ppm, 80 times higher than the USP limit. General residential soil is 1200 ppm (240x, 24,000%).
Household water: If you live in a house that was built before 1988, it’s very likely lead solder was used to put your household water supply together. This can leach out of the pipes and into the water you drink and bathe in. Lead exposure from such water may vastly exceed lead levels you’re exposed from all other household items and cosmetics. If you’re very concerned about lead and live in an house built before or around 1988, you should have your water analyzed.
Paint: Houses built prior to 1955 often had lead in paint up to a level of 500,000 ppm (50%) as lead oxide was a cheap and common pigment. Meaningful exposure to such old paint is presently a rare event. In 1977 this was lowered to 600 ppm, and in 2009 to 90 ppm. Keep in mind 90 ppm (18x 5 ppm) is for the paint even for babies’ toys, and if it’s from China, there’s no guarantee any standard at all will be adhered.
In summary, if you’re worried about heavy metals, it’s important to evaluate the difference between the mere presence of a metal and its concentration vs. the potential level of exposure, as the two are vastly different concerns.
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