As proponents of skin health, we’ll never get tired of repeating this mantra: Never leave home without sunscreen. Adequate sun protection is an essential part of life, but it comes with an unfortunate catch: Some sunscreens you find on beauty aisles are loaded with toxic chemicals that may be harmful not only to our bodies but also to the environment. And if Hawaii’s recent ban on certain chemical sunscreens tells us one thing, it’s that the threat they pose to marine life is even more serious than we thought. The good news? Natural sunscreens are generally deemed just as effective as their chemical counterparts—sans the health and environmental risks associated with harsh synthetic ingredients.
How Certain Ingredients Harm the Environment
While sunscreens do a good job of protecting your skin from the effects of UV rays, they are also causing damage somewhere else. Most commercially available sunscreen products contain oxybenzone or benzophenone-3 and octinoxate, which are chemical filters that absorb UVA and UVB rays. Oxybenzone, in particular, is a readily soluble photostabilizer that is widely used not only in sunscreens but also in cosmetic products like nail polishes, hairsprays and fragrances (products that often come in clear glass bottles and get exposed to sunlight).
But as effective and prolific as oxybenzone and octinoxate are, they’re also known to have a bad rep. And for good reason. According to the Environmental Working Group, oxybenzone ranks high on the list of ingredients that cause allergic reactions and it has the potential to disrupt endocrine functions. And octinoxate is no better.
But that’s not all. Recent studies show that these chemicals are insidiously harming the ocean and its marine life, particularly corals. Both oxybenzone and octinoxate have been found to affect coral growth, speed up coral bleaching and alter coral DNA and reproduction, making it harder for coral reefs to heal and support marine ecosystems.
Why Choose Natural Sunscreens
Unlike chemical sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, natural sunscreens (also known as mineral or physical sunscreens) take advantage of the inherent protective properties of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide against sun damage. These mineral ingredients create a barrier on our skin and shield it from UVA and UVB rays, acting like millions of microscopic hats and umbrellas. Zinc- and titanium-based sunscreens are also less irritating to the skin, and more important, have not been found to pose the same danger to the environment as their chemical equivalents.
Ready to make the switch to safer, cleaner and more natural sun protection? Check out our top picks for natural sunscreens!