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What’s the deal with chemicals in sunscreen, and does mineral sunscreen actually work??
I’ve got your complete guide to everything natural sunscreen. Get the lowdown on all things natural sunscreen, why you should think twice about chemical sunscreens, and what you can use instead.
We can all agree that sun protection is a non-negotiable! Sun exposure can lead to sunburn, skin cancer, premature ageing, and more.
We all know that we need to protect ourselves from the sun, but it can be hard to know the best way to do it. In this article we’re going to talk about different ways to get protection, why not all sunscreens are created equal, and we’ll answer the question: is sunscreen safe?
Sunscreen is a topical product that protects your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. It is one of the best ways that you can to prevent the damaging and dangerous effects of overexposure to the sun.
Effective sunscreens block both UVA and UBV rays and have a high SPF. SPF stands for “sun protection factor” which is an estimate of how well a product protects your skin.
What are the different types of sunscreen?
There are two main types of sunscreen: chemical and natural. Chemical sunscreen is the more traditional kind, but what exactly is natural sunscreen?
Natural or mineral sunscreens are typically products that don’t contain a chemical sun protection filter. They’re usually free of parabens and chemical ingredients (which we’ll discuss later!).
Most natural sunscreens use plant based ingredients to coat the skin and reflect UV rays. The active ingredients in natural sunscreens tend to be made from minerals rather than chemicals.
Chemical sunscreens are in a different camp. In the US sunscreens are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which means the ingredients are evaluated for safety before you can purchase them.
Regardless of this, in recent years certain ingredients in sunscreen have come under scrutiny for having adverse effects on our bodies and on the planet.
Why is chemical sunscreen bad for our bodies?
So, what are the issues with chemical sunscreens? It has to do with the specific ingredients and it is an important issue to consider because human exposure to these chemicals is high due to UV-filters in sunscreens being rapidly absorbed by the skin 4.
One of these ingredients is Octocrylene, which has been found to cause impairments in the endocrine system – the part of the body that produces hormones. It has also be found to affects the transcription of genes related to developmental processes in the brain and liver as well as metabolic processes in the liver in other species 1.
Another chemical ingredient that has come under scrutiny is Octinoxate, which has been linked to disturbance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT), endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and organ system toxicity in animal studies 4.
Triclosan, which is most commonly known for its use in antibacterial hand gels, is another chemical ingredient to be on the lookout for.
Researchers concluded that there is sufficient non-human evidence that triclosan is possibly toxic to reproductive and developmental health 3.
Triclosan decreased the synthesis of androgens, which are the hormones that play a role in male traits and reproductive activity. This decrease was followed by reduced sperm production in the animals in the study 5.
There are 12 additional sunscreen ingredients that the FDA says have insufficient data to determine their safety. These are currently still being used in many conventional sunscreen products.
Why is chemical sunscreen bad for the planet?
Not only are the chemicals found in sunscreen bad for our bodies, but those same compounds have negative effects on the environment too!
Studies have found UV filters such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate, and ethylhexyl salicylate in almost all water sources around the world because they are not easily removed by common wastewater treatment plant methods 6.
Coral reefs around the world have experienced damage from chemicals in sunscreen.
Octinoxate, which we mentioned earlier, and oxybenzone have been linked to coral bleaching 2. Coral bleaching is when coral polyps expel the algae that live in them. These algae are are essential for the health of the coral and without them the reef cannot function 6.
Additionally, UV filters such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate have been found in multiple fish species globally, which has consequences for the food chain as the chemicals can accumulate more and more further up 6.
What are Natural Alternatives to Chemical Sunscreens?
When it comes to sunscreens, it is clear why you would want to choose a natural or mineral option rather than a chemical one. Natural sunscreens often use ingredients from plants to reflect UV rays away from the skin.
The active ingredients in natural sunscreens are made of minerals, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These are the 2 active ingredients you should look for when shopping for a natural sunscreen. They will be listed at the top where it says, “drug facts.”
There are lots of choices of ‘natural’ sunscreens out there, and I’ve tested a TON of them! Check out my top mineral sunscreens that actually work.
Thankfully there are additional options and behaviours that we can practice to keep ourselves safe in the sun.
Stay in the Shade
The absolutely best way to stay safe in the sun is to stay out of it! Avoiding major sun exposure during the hottest times of the day is a great idea.
Or find some shade! Look for a shady spot under a tree, or bring your own umbrella for a beach day.
Additionally, we can wear UV protective clothing and swimwear to give us an extra layer of protection. A hat is always a great idea to keep the sun off our faces and necks too.
What are the Best Mineral Sunscreens?
Speaking of sunscreens, you might be wondering how the heck to find a natural, mineral based sunscreen that works AND doesn’t harm the planet??
Sounds like a tall order, but I’ve got you covered!
Tell me below: Have you made the switch to mineral sunscreen?
- Blüthgen, N., Meili, N., Chew, G., Odermatt, A., & Fent, K. (2014). Accumulation and effects of the UV-filter octocrylene in adult and embryonic zebrafish (Danio rerio). Science of The Total Environment, 207-217.
- Danovaro, R., Bongiorni, L., Corinaldes, C., Giovannelli, D., Damiani, E., Astolfi, P., . . . Pusceddu, A. (2008). Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections. Environmental Health Perspective, 441–447.
- Johnson, P. I., Koustas, E., Vesterinen, H. M., Sutton, P., Atchley, D. S., Kim, A. N., . . . Woodruff, T. J. (2016). Application of the Navigation Guide systematic review methodology to the evidence for developmental and reproductive toxicity of triclosan. Environment International, 716-728.
- Krause, M., Klit, A., Blomberg Jensen, M., Søeborg, T., Frederiksen, H., Schlumpf, M., . . . Drzewiecki, K. T. (2021). Sunscreens: are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV-filters. International Journal of Andrology, 424-436.
- Kumar, V., Chakraborty, A., Kural, M. R., & Roy, P. (2009). Alteration of testicular steroidogenesis and histopathology of reproductive system in male rats treated with triclosan. Reroductive Toxicology, 177-185.
- Schneider, S. L., & Lim, H. W. (2019). Review of environmental effects of oxybenzone and other sunscreen active ingredients. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 266-271.