Natural sunscreens that won’t harm you or the environment
With spring and summer arriving, more people are spending extra time outdoors or are heading to the beach. It’s time to get out that sunscreen. But as an environmentally conscience person, you want to be sure that the sun block you are using is not harmful to the planet; and is safe to smear all over your kids as well. Unlike many skin care products, the sunscreen industry is a little behind in providing safe, chemical free alternatives. Many sunscreens are harmful to the environment. So what sunscreens are safe?
Most sunscreens produced in the United States are petroleum based (made from oil). There are also a lot of chemicals added into the lotion that do not biodegrade and linger in the environment. Nanoparticles are also an additive that do not go away easily. Though all these toxins can harm any eco system, there have been numerous studies showing that coral reefs are being hurt by the sunscreens worn by snorkelers. According to On Earth Magazine, nearly 6,000 tons of sunscreen is washed off into the oceans every year. Coral reefs are very sensitive to any toxin in their environment. The chemicals kill off the living organisms that live in the coral, killing the coral then the reef itself. Studies have shown that many common sunscreen ingredients are especially harmful to corals, such as cinnamate, benzophenone, camphor and parabens. Be sure to check the ingredients of any sunscreens you buy to make sure they do not contain these chemicals.
Not only are some sun blocks bad for the environment, they can also be bad for you. Though it is not confirmed, some speculate that the vitamin A compound retinyl palmitate (which is found in many sunscreens to prevent aging) may cause tumor growth when absorbed into the skin and exposed to sunlight. For now, it is best to be safe and not purchase sun blocks with vitamin A. Also the compounds oxybenzone and octinoxate can be included in sunscreens. These chemical are absorbed into the skin, and can cause irritation for those who are sensitive. Also, when exposed to sunlight, they can release free radicals into the environment and your skin, which can cause cell and DNA damage.
With all these warnings against sunscreen, is it really worth wearing it at all? I would say yes if you are planning on being in the sun for a longer length of time. It is important to protect your skin against burning and skin cancer, so when searching for the best sun block, keep an eye out for these features:
- Chemicals that can harm the environment and you.
Avoid any lotions that include nanoparticles, cinnamate, benzophenone, camphor or parabens. Especially if you are exploring coral reefs, buy eco friendly sunscreen. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are good alternative UV protectants.
- Be cautious about SPF claims
Unlike most skin care products, the FDA does not regulate sunscreen manufacturers
because they are still working on the guidelines for sunscreen safety and their effectiveness. This means that some sunscreen makers can put misleading information on their products. For instance, “SPF 110 sunscreen provides more protection”, when in reality, the SPF scale only indicates protection against UVB rays. Most scientists say you should only purchase sunscreens with a SPF as high as 50, and anything above that is not much better, even 110. The higher SPF values also give the illusion of better protection, but again, they are only protecting against UVB radiation.
- Buy sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection
All sunscreens in the US have ingredients that protect against UVB rays; the type of radiation that causes sunburn but doesn’t penetrate the skin deeply. But few sunscreens in the US have UVA protection. UVA radiation is what penetrates the skin and causes aging, wrinkling and skin cancer. We need protection from both types of sun radiation. When selecting a sunscreen, just because the bottle says it provides full coverage or protection against UVA and UVB light does not mean it actually does (Remember how the FDA does not regulate manufacturers). To make sure you are protected against UVA rays, check the ingredients to see if they have UVA protecting chemicals (Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are great UVA protectants).
The Environmental Working Group has looked at the ingredients of over 1,800 different sunscreens and have given each a rating based on safety and effectiveness. A one or two rating indicates a very safe non-toxic lotion that is effective, while 7-10 indicate a high hazard product. You can check to see what your favorite sunscreen ranks at Environmental Working Group. You might be surprised at the rating.
Below is a list of the best sunscreens that are recommended by the Environmental Working Group. All have a #1 rating, are effective and are safe for you and the environment.