Ah, spring is finally upon us! As we get ready to shake off those winter blues and step into the sunshine, many of you will be heading to the shops to pick up a new bottle of sunscreen.
But are there certain things you need to avoid when making your choice? Perhaps you’ve heard certain chemicals are damaging to our health, as well the health of our seas? Maybe you’re curious about the benefits of natural sunscreen?
The plethora of information out there can be pretty overwhelming, but not to worry. Here at PlantX, we’ve devised a short guide on all the things you should consider when choosing your natural sunscreen. Whether you’re concerned about health risks, the environment, or have specific skin concerns, read on to find out what you should avoid.
How do normal and natural sunscreens work?
First off, a little explanation. There are two kinds of sunscreen on the market. Chemical sunscreens which absorb and filter UV rays on your skin, and barrier sunscreens, which reflect the UV rays.
Chemical sunscreens use carbon-based chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, as well as others. Barrier sunscreens primarily use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
What’s the problem with chemical sunscreens?
There is evidence that the ingredients often used in chemical sunscreens may not be completely safe for human use. A 2019 FDA report found that only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide could be classified as completely safe, based on the current research available.
However, the safety of other ingredients often found in sunscreens such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octocrylene, and homosalate could not be guaranteed. Studies have shown that these chemicals may act as endocrine disruptors. They’re also easily absorbed in the body after use, with traces being detected in the body weeks after use.
How can I avoid these chemicals?
Although the evidence on the harm of these chemicals is not 100% conclusive, the health-conscious consumer may still want to avoid them altogether and opt for a natural sunscreen. The ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide found in barrier sunscreen are the only ones considered completely safe by the FDA. Many natural, plant-based sunscreens typically contain fewer ingredients, making it easier to scan for nasties and know exactly what it is you’re putting on your skin.
Are sunscreens damaging to our coral reefs?
While the evidence of the effects of these chemicals on our bodies is still building, the effects on marine life are sadly already evident.
It’s estimated around 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter the areas around reefs annually. The effect is highly damaging, causing the reefs to bleach and become more susceptible to death and disease. An integral part of the sea’s ecosystem, damage to the coral reefs will have a devastating effect on our planet.
How do I choose a sunscreen that’s safe for our seas?
Sounds bad? Hawaii thinks so too… In 2018 Hawaii prohibited the sale and distribution of all sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, following up with avobenzone and octocrylene in 2021.
Many plant-based sunscreens are also “reef-friendly” or “Hawaii compliant”, such as this one from Alba Botanica. That means they don’t contain any of the above-mentioned banned ingredients. Choosing these over traditional chemical-based sunscreens ensures you are doing what’s best for the oceans and having less of an impact on our beautiful seas. If it’s good enough for Hawaii, it’s good enough for us!
What about the packaging?
So now we’ve covered what’s inside the sunscreen, let’s look at what it comes in. As we know, there is far too much plastic in our landfills, oceans, and even our bodies. But avoiding it is tough. Thankfully many natural sunscreen companies are dedicated to using recyclable, recycled and biodegradable materials for their packaging. Result!
What if I have sensitive skin?
For those whose skin is prone to reactions and flare-ups, chemical sunscreen may be the culprit. Because chemical sunscreens work by filtering and breaking down UV rays as they hit your skin, they create heat that can be irritating to sensitive skin. Common chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as avobenzone, octocrylene, and oxybenzone have even been shown to cause allergic reactions in some people.
Are plant-based sunscreens better for sensitive skin?
Natural barrier sunscreens work by reflecting UV rays rather than filtering them. This means no chemical reaction occurs and therefore no heat is generated, meaning the sunscreen is less likely to be irritating.
Unlike chemical sunscreens which need to be applied 15 minutes before sun exposure, natural sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide work straight away! Great for protecting easily burnt skin on those days on the beach.
In addition, many plant-based sunscreens typically contain natural skin-soothing ingredients. In the Dead Sea Spa Magik Sunsafe hypoallergenic formula, you get soothing ingredients such as aloe vera. Others, such as the Drunk Elephant’s Physical Daily Defence, are completely free from known drying or irritating ingredients. A win-win situation for sensitive skin!
Ok, now I know what to avoid… But what do I want in sunscreen?
When choosing a natural sunscreen, be sure to select one that is broad-spectrum. This means it offers both UVA and UVB protection. Selecting one which is fragrance and paraben-free is always a plus, and make sure it’s reef-friendly. Additionally, cream formulas are preferable to sprays, as the risk of unintentional inhalation is minimized.
And remember, our sun is a powerful thing! Sunscreen is only one element of avoiding sun exposure. To truly stay safe, be sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves where possible, and avoid direct sun between 10 am - 4 pm.
To sum it all up
Whether you worship the sun or stay in the shade, there are a variety of reasons you may opt for a natural sunscreen. Perhaps you are concerned about the potential of chemicals to act as endocrine disruptors in the body. Maybe you want to do everything you can to reduce your impact on the planet, or you just want to be a little kinder to your skin. Whatever your reasoning, there are numerous benefits to switching to a plant-based sunscreen!