There’s so much new information out there about the effects that different skincare ingredients have on our bodies. The clean beauty movement is all about being healthy by making informed choices about what we consume and recycle back into the earth. Everytime you apply sunscreen at the beach and go swimming, those ingredients are put right back into the ocean where they have a detrimental effect on coral reefs, marine life and biodiversity. To us, it’s important to know what exactly is in your sun protection - and the effect it has on human and global health.
There are two kinds of active ingredients in sunscreen: mineral and chemical filters. Chemical sunscreen typically contains a combination of oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Chemical filters are absorbed into the skin while little if any of the mineral sunscreen particles penetrate the tissue (unless they’re nano-sized).
In addition to bleaching coral reefs, the harmful chemicals found in many conventional sunscreens can wreak havoc on our bodies. Many conventional sunscreens include ingredients to help them penetrate into your skin to stay on better. As a result, they are absorbed into the body and the bloodstream. In sunscreens with chemical active ingredients, this can cause more harm than good.
Most conventional sunscreens use chemical ingredients. Studies have shown that several chemical UV filters mimic hormones with many known to be hormone disruptors. Since hormones essentially impact how your body functions, you really don't want anything messing with them. Physicians also report high numbers of sunscreen-related skin allergies as many common chemical filters have been shown to be skin sensitizers.
According to the CDC, 97% of Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone. This hormone-disrupting ingredient has been associated with altered birth weight in humans, allergic reactions, potent-anti-androgenic effects, and biochemical and cellular level changes. Octinoxate, another widespread filter, has also been shown to have an effect on hormones and lead to developmental and reproductive toxicity. It can also produce estrogen-like effects similar to oxybenzone. If that weren't bad enough, both of these ingredients cause coral bleaching. A study by the Environmental Health Perspective scientists found that octinoxate caused complete bleaching of coral even at very low concentrations. Research has shown that coral reefs in Hawaii are exposed to over 6,000 tons of sunscreen lotion every year.
However, despite the growing body of research, the FDA has yet to review the new evidence. In fact, it has actually grandfathered in ingredients used in the 1970s, when it first looked at ingredient safety. Given what we know now, this information is far outdated. The Danish EPA reviewed the safety of sunscreen ingredients in 2015 and concluded that the majority lack adequate information to ensure their safety.
Despite the known risks, these ingredients remain approved worldwide. Opt for mineral sunscreens with zinc or zinc and titanium to protect your skin and the earth. And don't forget to check the inactive ingredients! Just because your sunscreen has the good kind of active ingredients, doesn't mean they're all good. Check for one in particular: the preservative methylisothiazolinone which is known to be a major skin sensitizer/allergen.
Here are a few to get you started:
Raw Love All Natural Mineral Sunscreen
Badger Balm Active Clear Zinc Sunscreen Cream
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen
For a full list of harmful chemicals and their effects, check out the EWG sunscreen guide.
Header photo: Unsplash