A Guide to Healthy Sustainable Sunscreens

woman sun bathing

Summer is already here! Can you believe it? With Covid restrictions lifted in California, people flock everywhere. A very hot and dry summer season is ahead of us, so many will spend plenty of time on the beach to escape the brutal heat. Lots of sun exposure calls for proper skin protection. Unfortunately, not all sunscreens are created equal. Even though they might offer protection from burning, many conventional sunscreens have been known to contain chemicals that are not beneficial for your health, which we’ll discuss in this blog post.

Avoiding the sun all together is also not recommended because we need vitamin D.

The sun is our primary energy source on this planet. There would be no life without it. Sun exposure stimulates the body’s vitamin D production, which we need to feel good, for proper immune function and to grow bones and muscles. A deficiency can even cause depression, especially in the winter.

Depending on your skin type, 10-20 minutes a day (without sunscreen) are enough for the body to make vitamin D. You obviously don’t want to spend hours and hours baking in the sun as your skin can burn (no good), sun rays age your skin and cause wrinkles, and the worst-case scenario can cause cancer.

Different Types of Sunscreens

When it comes to sunscreen you have to choose wisely. Standard sunscreens contain a chemical filter and therefore lots of chemicals. Chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin and absorb UV rays. Chemicals get absorbed into the skin and into your bloodstream. Some filters even trigger a reaction when they come into contact with the sun and cause free radicals, which can be very harmful. Stay away from sunscreens containing oxybenzone, avobenzone, benzophenone and octylmethoxycinnamate.

Oxybenzone is linked to endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, contact allergies, and photo allergies, meaning exposure to light is required to generate an allergic response.

And if that wasn’t enough, those chemicals found in our sunscreens cause damage to coral reefs too. Oxybenzone, which can seep into the water, gets absorbed by corals. These substances contain nanoparticles that can disrupt corals’ reproduction and growth cycles, ultimately leading to bleaching, causing serious damage to the ecosystem.

Hawaii passed a bill to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, another harmful chemical. Hawaii is the first state to pass such a measure, and it went into effect as a law on January 1, 2021.

Look for brands with natural (physical) sun filter, which means they sit on top of your skin, and don’t get absorbed by it, to reflect UV rays, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They work best but are also good for the skin.

One thing to be aware of, mineral sunscreens are harder to rub in and often leave a white-ish film on your skin. Not all of them do, Drunk Elephant Umbra™ Sheer Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 doesn’t.

Some mineral sunscreens are considered less effective than chemical sunscreens. I personally never had that experience, but I also don’t spend hours in the sun, so I can’t attest to that statement. Mineral sunscreens work for me, but they might not for you.

Depending on where you live you might have more access to more advanced sunscreen formulas than the U.S. Places like the EU, Australia and Japan are ahead of the game with safe and effective ingredients such as Uvinul A plus, Uvinul T 150, Mexoryl XL, and Mexoryl SX, Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M.

Those ingredients haven’t been approved by the U.S. FDA, but they also haven’t added any new sunscreen ingredients since 1999. The reason being the FDA doesn’t classify sunscreens as cosmetic ingredients like the rest of the world, but as over-the-counter drugs.

U.S. products use more than 1,000 unhealthy ingredients that are banned in Europe. Europeans are way stricter when it comes to product safety. If there’s any research showing health concerns, they are quick to ban, whereas the FDA only bans chemicals after staggering evidence of proof of toxicity.

Thankfully Gov. Newsom signed a legislation that bans the use of 24 chemicals in cosmetics starting in 2025. Many of the substances are prohibited from cosmetics in the European Union and the California legislature says it aims to continue banning cosmetic ingredients that the EU proscribes. Unfortunately, this is not across all over the US, only California specific. Also 2025 is still 4 years away.

Take Away

Obviously, there’s a problem in the U.S., we have too many toxic chemicals in our products across the board that are still not banned because there’s “not enough data for prove” according to the FDA.

Meanwhile as long as the FDA demonstrates willing blindness to these problems, all consumers can do is limit exposure to toxic chemicals in our household and cosmetic products.

If mineral sunscreens are not for you, maybe try to get a hold of sunscreens from Europe, Japan or Australia with the ingredients mentioned in this blog.

If mineral sunscreens work for you, all you really need to look for is “mineral sunscreen”, which will be clearly stated on the packaging, and double check it says zinc oxide or titanium dioxide on the ingredient list.

I have used Coola, Alba Botanica, Thinksport, Drunk Elephant Umbra™ Sheer Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum, but there are many other brands too, such as Raw Elements USA. You can also check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide to sunscreens by clicking here.

I also always wear a hat religiously.

*Ad Vitam is not affiliated with any of the brands mentioned in this post.

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