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Choosing a Natural Sunscreen for Summer (No Harmful Chemicals in Sight)
How to find an SPF that’s safe for you and the environment.
Ah, summer! The season where we get to frolic in the ocean, drink mojitos by the pool and enjoy sun-dappled picnics outdoors. We can totally hear the sweet sound of sizzling BBQs already!
But, with a recent onslaught of not-so-great news regarding the sun and skincare — more than 2000 Aussies are dying from skin cancer each year and two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they hit 70 — there’s a major issue we need to talk about right now: how to choose a natural sunscreen that *actually* works!
So what makes a natural sunscreen ‘natural’?
Instead of using a combination of chemicals to absorb harmful UV rays, natural sunscreens use minerals (like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) to create a physical barrier on top of your skin, which blocks and reflects away the sunlight.
- Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays.
- Natural sunscreens create a physical barrier.
Natural vs. chemical sunscreen differences
If you’ve been mindlessly applying sunscreen from your local supermarket for years, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the chemicals you’re putting on your skin.
Here are some of the key differences between chemical sunscreens and natural sunscreens — and why you might want to make the switch to natural this summer!
1. Chemical sunscreens can penetrate your skin and enter your bloodstream.
Studies show that chemical sunscreens include toxic ingredients that can be absorbed into your skin and can actually be measured in blood, breast milk and urine samples. One study even found that the chemical sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone can linger in our bodies for five days after a single sunscreen application! *Shivers*
Earlier in 2018, the US state of Hawaii banned the sale and distribution of chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate because the ingredients are thought to “cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms”.
That got us thinking: if oxybenzone and octinoxate can cause harm to coral, then what are they doing to our bodies? (Hint: it's not good - keep reading!).
Did you know?
Exposure to UV radiation during your first 15 years greatly increases the risk of developing skin cancer in later life?
(Cancer Council NSW)
2. Some chemical sunscreens are suspected hormone disruptors.
One of the biggest worries with chemical sunscreen is that it might mimic, block or alter your hormone levels — also known as endocrine disruption.
One study from the Endocrine Society in 2016 reported evidence that many common chemical sunscreen ingredients interfere with the function of human sperm cells, and some even mimic the effect of the female hormone progesterone.
The EWG also states that high concentrations of oxybenzone in the body may increase your risk of endometriosis and reduce testosterone or block its effects.
3. Chemical sunscreens may irritate the skin or trigger acne.
If you have sensitive skin, natural sunscreens are the way to go! Chemical SPFs are more likely to trigger contact dermatitis, resulting in swelling, rashes, blisters, red bumps and itchy skin. If you suffer from acne, natural sunscreens are also best, because their ingredients are less comedogenic (aka pore-clogging). Hooray for clear skin!
Not all ‘natural’ sunscreens are created equally.
A word of caution: just because a sunscreen says it contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide doesn't guarantee it's 100% natural!
To be truly natural, the minerals in your sunscreen must not be coated with chemicals like silicone or be micronized to nanoparticles.
Many sunscreens also boast other skin care benefits like anti-aging ingredients, but it's best not to believe the hype until you take a good look at a product's ingredients. For example, vitamin A is often marketed as an impressive anti-aging sunscreen ingredient. But one recent study suggests that retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may actually speed the growth of cancerous tumours when used on skin exposed to sunlight!
Did you know?
No matter how high the number, all sunscreens protect for the same amount of time. An 80 SPF sunscreen, for example, doesn't let someone stay outside longer than a 15 SPF sunscreen. You should always reapply every 2 hours!
What to look for in your natural sunscreen:
- At least 10% zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to ensure it has a high enough concentration to block the sun’s UV rays.
- A formulation with no chemical preservatives, artificial fragrances or synthetic chemicals, like dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and sulisobenzone.
- A ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen that will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. Note that *no* sunscreen blocks 100% of UV rays.
- A mineral-based cream formulation. Sprays, powders and towelettes don’t guarantee proper coverage.
- A minimum of SPF15 to SPF30 sunscreen.
A few of our favourite natural sunscreens:
A fantastic all-natural, vegan, hypoallergenic SPF30 sunscreen for those with sensitive skin. With a broad spectrum formulation (UVA and UVB), a non-greasy texture and nourishing antioxidant ingredients, like green tea, grape seeds, shea butter and jojoba, Eco is the perfect all-rounder sunscreen for summer!
Grahams Natural SunClear Sunscreen
A 100% natural sunscreen that is reef friendly and biodegradable. With full UVA/UVB SPF 30+ protection and moisturising ingredients, like shea butter, rosehip oil, sesame seed oil and vitamin E, Grahams is a great formulation for those with sensitive, dry skin.