We all know that the sun offers a wide range of physical and mental health benefits and can drastically transform our states of being. However, that is when presented in moderate dosages, and with intentionality. While there are plenty of perks that come with sun exposure, there obviously can be some potential harm too.
If you’re like me and try to get in the sun any chance you get, but also prioritize your health and wellbeing to the max, it can be challenging to find products and practices that best serve you (and your body). Whether the goal is anti-cancer, slower-aging, tattoo-preservation, or so you don’t burn like a newborn babe, sun-blocking products are often the modality of choice. It is a fabulous idea to use protective measures (commonly in the form of sunscreen) to help us on our quest against the negatives of intense, constant sun exposure, but at what cost?
Today we will go into the nasty, nitty-gritty, literally TOXIC side of the sunscreen world (*ahem* market, I mean). We will peek at the six most frightful ingredients that are found in your standard sunscreens, some of their terrible health (and environmental) effects, which brands to avoid, which brands are highly recommended (and not just by us), and a stupendous tool to help empower you on your search for cleaner, non-toxic personal care products.
If you’re ready, let’s dive on in!
There are two kinds of sunscreens:
NON-MINERAL (chemical formulas): These are the conventional ones found at most drug stores/supermarkets. Think: Banana Boat, Coppertone, Neutrogena, etc.
MINERAL (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide formulas): These are the generally non-toxic, thicker, white/chalky ones you might think are the opposite of sexy — according to societal norms 😉 — but are often the way better choice.
Now, before you click away because you don’t want the chalky, “nerdy” sunscreen all over you, let me inform you that not all of the “good” sunblocks (with zinc and such) will leave you looking ghostly. Many have formulas that have uncoated (which means clear) zinc oxide, like Badger Sunscreen.
Another disclaimer is that just because a sunscreen contains zinc as it’s “active ingredient” totally does not mean it’s not a toxic tube of trash paste. Many brands LOVE to slap the “zinc” buzzword on their labels because they know if they don’t, their market can (and will) decrease dramatically, now that people are actually starting to pay attention to what they purchase and put in/on their bodies. (((Awareness is often bad for business))).
The best way for you to check if the sunscreen you’re about to buy is worthy or not is to look for any of these six main, very harmful ingredients on both the “active” and “inactive” ingredient lists.
- The worst and most prominent one
- Found in 96% of all sunscreens
Oxybenzone is connected to:
- Hormone disruption
- Sperm alterations/fertility issues
- …and so many more… TOO many more.
- Hormone disruptor
- Negatively affects the thyroid
- Found in the breast milk of nursing mothers — yikes!
- Found in the blood over 16 times the FDA safety threshold, which is soooo not okay.
Several countries ban the sale of sunscreens that contain octinoxate, not only because it is harmful to humans, but is also detrimental to aquatic life.
- You guessed it! Another hormone disruptor
- Breaks down into harmful byproducts that go right in your blood stream
Other common no-good ingredients to look out for:
+ FRAGRANCES – A.k.a the umbrella term for SO many chemicals. This is the way for companies to sneak in loads of crap that either make their product cheaper to produce, last unnaturally long, or, like in the case of “natural flavors” in our food, more enticing (*cough cough* addicting). Beware.
If you’ve never heard of the EWG (Environmental Working Group), oh boy, are you stoked!
This nonprofit, nonpartisan organization is dedicated to serving folks like us that want to live a healthy, happy life, full of clean products/food, but don’t have any idea how to get the TRUTH and the FACTS, without a slant or a sales pitch.
Check out their Skin Deep Database to see an ingredient, product, or brand’s level of cleanliness or toxicity. Empower yourself, and look up any of your personal care items/cosmetics — be it shampoo, toothpaste, mascara, deodorant, whatever — so you are more informed about what you’re putting in/on your precious being. They even have a handy rating feature to help us better understand how they rank each item.
An in-depth — yet easy to understand — report was written and posted by the EWG, entitled The Trouble with Ingredients in Sunscreens. I trust them as a solid resource and would like to share the first two paragraphs of that article here, so it’s not just me hootin’ n hollerin’ at ya.
“Sunscreen products are intended to be applied to the body every day, for a lifetime. The companies that make and sell sunscreen ingredients and products should test them thoroughly for potential short-term and long-term health effects. This includes toxicity testing for irritation and skin allergies, as well as testing for skin absorption and the potential to cause cancer, disrupt the hormone system and cause harm during reproduction and development.
In 2019, when the federal Food and Drug Administration – the agency that governs sunscreen safety – proposed its most recent updates to sunscreen regulations, it found that only two ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, could be classified as safe and effective, based on the currently available information. But in the past year, numerous new studies have raised new concerns about endocrine-disrupting effects from three other ingredients: homosalate, avobenzone and oxybenzone.”
Read more here.
Non-toxic sunscreens we like:
Badger – SPF 40 Clear Zinc Sunscreen
Earth Mama – Uber-Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40
Two Peas Organics – Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
Olita Mineral Sunscreen (Tinted) – SPF 30
All Good – Mineral Sport Sunscreen SPF 30
Seven Minerals – SPF 30 (Non-Mineral) Sunscreen
Blue Lizard – Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30+
*Side note: While the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sun-blocking products are really the cream of the crop when it comes to non-toxic sunscreen, they still pose some threats when inhaled, just like, well, most things. So, to be safe, don’t purposefully inhale the sunscreen you spray on yourself. In reality though, you probably make a face similar to this anyway, so you’re fine.
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This blog could be a million times longer, with a thousand more links to products and articles, but I will leave it here. Do some research for yourself! See what floats your boat, and don’t beat yourself up too much if you use a product that’s a 4, 5, or 6 on the EWG list. You’re an imperfect human trying your best, and that’s what counts.
Now go out and catch some rays (with mindfulness), and enjoy the innumerable benefits the sunshine has to offer!