Much is written about harmful ingredients in sunscreen. And with good reason: We slather it on our skin and then wash it off into our waterways and oceans. The good news is that non toxic sunscreen is much more widely available than ever before. The tricky thing is wading through all the marketing speak to find the genuinely good stuff. But is there any reason to be worried about what we’re using to protect us from the sun? After all, they’re made to protect us, right?
This article guides you through the jungle, so you can avoid the harmful ingredients and find a non toxic sunscreen.
Chemical Free, Mineral... A few Definitions
It’s important to address what we class as a ‘chemical’. There is maybe a misconception that all chemicals are harmful – they’re not. We (and everything around us) are made up of them; nothing is truly “chemical free”. So instead of searching for a chemical free sunscreen, we're talking about a non toxic sunscreen i.e. one that is free from harmful chemicals.
And if we say ‘chemical’ sun screens, we mean the synthetic chemical filters (like oxybenzone) rather than the physical or mineral filters (like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide).
What are the harmful ingredients in sunscreen?
This table has a list of all the ingredients you might want to avoid and why:
1. Ingredients linked to reproductive Issues
Chemical sunscreens have been linked to reproductive issues because of the hormone-mimicing effects of some of the ingredients. The chemical homosalate, for example, has been linked to interference with sperm function (Rehfeld 2016). Niels Skakkebaek, a senior investigator in the study of the effects of homosalate says, ”These results are of concern and might explain in part why unexplained infertility is so prevalent”.
Using synthetic/chemical sunscreen during pregnancy is also a cause for concern. When chemicals or products are tested for their safety, they aren’t tested on pregnant women due to it being deemed unethical; however the ethical considerations of allowing a potentially harmful product to be used on pregnant women are swept to the side. Given the data that shows certain synthetic chemicals affect our reproductive health in other ways, it might be a good idea to avoid sunscreens with controversial chemicals and opt for something safer.
2. Ingredients that can irritate the skin
The reason we choose to apply sunscreen is to protect our skin, but some chemicals such as cinoxate and octocrylene are linked to skin irritation and photosensitivity (a reddening of the skin resembling sun burn) – a little ironic! If you are suffering with a skin condition, such as eczema, the best sun cream to use is one that is organic and as natural as possible.
3. Chemicals that aren't photostable
If a chemical is photo-unstable, it means its chemical structure can be changed under the influence of light, so sunscreen chemicals especially should be photostable. Avobenzone, a commonly used ingredient in synthetic sunscreen which, when broken down, can become unstable and toxic.
4. Environmentally damaging sun screens
Synthetic chemicals in sunscreen aren’t linked to health concerns alone. Ingredients like oxybenzone are also linked to negative environmental impacts including pollution, where evidence has revealed damage to coral reefs when this chemical is washed off of swimmers (NOAA 2015). But how much of this really ends up on coral reefs? Well, actually, up to 14,000 tones…each year. Not only are we searching for safe sunscreen for our health, but reef safe sunscreen to protect our environment.
So what about the physical / mineral sunscreens like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide?
Thankfully, physical sunscreens provide both effective sun protection and aren’t associated with the health or environmental concerns above.
In our opinion, physical ingredients (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) are the safest sunscreens to choose from. Both of these minerals sit on top of the skin and reflect the UV rays away, rather than the chemical alternatives that absorb the UV light.
Zinc oxide in particular has a number of health benefits attributed to it, including soothing skin irritation and is great for coping with sunburn, it’s non comedogenic (it won’t clog your pores and contribute to acne), it’s antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and has been shown to improve elasticity in skin which improves the appearance of wrinkles.
Zinc oxide is considered to be a better form of sun protection than titanium dioxide because it protects against a larger proportion of UVA rays (in fact, it often provides even better UVA protection than the chemical sunscreens).
5. What About Nanoparticles?
Nanoparticles refer to particles less than 100 nanometers in size (1 nanometer is 1/100,000 the width of a human hair!). There are concerns about the effect of nanoparticles – particularly those used in anti-ageing products – being able to change our skin’s cells.
Sun creams sometimes use nano-sized zinc or titanium dioxide in order to avoid a whitening effect on the skin. However, we do not use nanoparticles in our products. Nanoparticles are prohibited by the Soil Association, they guarantee that the average particle size in sunscreen is 200nm. However, our certified non-nano formula offers the best of effectiveness and aesthetics – a sunscreen which is clinically proven to give broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection without whitening the skin.
So try a physical sunscreen to steer clear of synthetic, harmful sunscreen chemicals and take advantage of physical sunscreen benefits.
Want To Try Our Non Toxic Sunscreen?
A great natural chemical-free sunscreen is our organic, 100% Natural Non Toxic Sun Cream SPF30. It is extremely efficient at protecting you from UVB and UVA rays (its critical wavelength is an impressive 380!). Alongside (non-nano) zinc oxide at 20% concentration, it is also made up of skin-nourishing ingredients that are rich in antioxidants to counteract other damaging effects of the sun.
If you’d like any more advice on harmful ingredients in sunscreen or natural sunscreen, please do email us – [email protected], add your question as a comment below, or call 01638 491022 – we’re here to help! See our range of natural sun care products now.