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Is your Sunscreen Safe?

Our skin is the largest organ in our body. And yet summer rolls around and we lather ourselves in chemicals which can be damaging to our health. The most common sunscreens contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. 

The Environmental Working Group and other toxicology experts believe that oxybenzone is linked to hormone disruption and potentially to cell damage that could cause skin cancer*.  

But what is clear about Oxybenzone:

  • It’s toxic for marine life (not reef safe)
  • It’s allergenic and irritates sensitive skin
  • It can irritate acne-prone skin
  • It has been detected in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood
  • It is absorbed through the skin in large amounts and can remain in the bloodstream weeks after application 

 

What’s the alternative? 

If you don’t want to take the risk, your best bet is to opt for a mineral-based sunscreen which creates a physical barrier from the harmful UV rays. Mineral sunscreens use titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is the best option as it reflects away the sun’s rays whilst having no adverse issues with our skin. Zinc oxide is also anti-inflammatory and calming on the skin, bonus! 


When mineral sunscreens first came out they were thick, white, and chalky which was fairly unpleasant, especially for folks with darker skin. They have since come a long way and there are several great options available. Keep reading for recommendations!

 

5 things to look for in a mineral sunscreen: 

 

1. Broad-spectrum  

When it comes to protecting ourselves from the sun, we tend to only think about sunburn which is caused by UVB. But we also want protection against UVA which ages our skin and can be present even on a cloudy day. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will protect against both. So look for “broad-based” or “non-nano zinc” on the labelling. You can learn more about nano vs non-nano zinc here.

 

2. Reef safe 

If a sunscreen is “reef safe”, it means it doesn’t contain oxybenzone or octinoxate. However, this lulls us into a false sense of security as other “semi-safe” chemicals such as octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate can also pose a threat to our reefs. Even if something is ‘semi-safe’, if you have hundreds of people in the water, it can create toxicity for aquatic life. 

 

3. The higher SPF the better, right? 

Wrong. The higher the SPF, the lower the UVA protection. UVA protection is critical to protect against long term damage including skin cancer. A higher SPF also gives folks a false sense of security as they tend to overexpose themself to more harmful UV rays. To play it safe, 30 SPF is optimal, and up to 50 SPF is ok. The FDA wants to change the requirements and testing for SPF 60 and above however, this bill is currently on hold due to the coronavirus. 

 

4. Cruelty-free 

As always, just because it’s ‘clean’ it doesn’t mean it’s free from animal testing or doesn’t use animal bi-products. So look for the certifications or reach out to the brands for clarification. 

 

5. Fragrance-free 

 If you’re going to ditch the chemical sunscreen, don’t add more potentially harmful chemicals to the mix and undo your good work :) 

 

Recommendations: 

I have personally used this one by Helena Lane. It smells divine, melts into the skin, and it’s handmade in small batches in Squamish, Canada. It’s the equivalent of around 30 SPF, just remember to reapply throughout the day when in direct sun. 


I haven’t used the following brands personally but have heard good things: 

Suntegrity 

Black Girl Sunscreen  

Solara Suncare  


If you’re on a budget, wholefoods own value brand 365 have a mineral sunscreen. 

Do you have any recommendations I can add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!


Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels

*Results are based on tests carried out on animals however the full human impact is still uncertain.

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