Safe Sunscreens

Safe Sunscreens

A guide to natural sun care

Photo by Janessa Leone

Production Liz Alvis Parry

The dangers of sunburn have been well publicised in recent years. Indeed, according to Cancer Research UK, overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer. Choosing a good quality sunscreen is essential when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun, but according to new research certain chemicals found in our sunscreens may pose hazards to our health as well as causer serious harm to marine life.


There are two main types of sunscreen: chemical and mineral. As the name suggests, chemical sunscreens contain chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. They work by absorbing UV radiation and dissipating it. The Environmental Working Group has warned that oxybenzone can not only cause allergic skin reactions but has also been found to be a weak oestrogen and has potent anti-androgenic effects. As a result, the EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone.


Both oxybenzone and octinoxate have been found to cause significant damage to coral reefs and other marine organisms. In fact, the state of Hawaii recently passed legislation that could result in a ban on the sale of sunscreens containing these chemicals. Not only do these toxic chemicals “cause mortality in developing coral” and “increase coral bleaching”, according to the legislation, but they also “appear to increase the probability of endocrine disruption” in various marine life and “induce deformities in the embryonic development” of certain aquatic creatures. 


Mineral sunscreens differ from their chemical counterparts in that they contain natural agents such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which form a protective layer on the skin and reflect UV light away from skin’s surface. Mineral sunscreens protect against the two types of UV radiation: UVB, which affects the skin near to the surface and is responsible for causing sunburn, and UVA, which penetrates the skin more deeply and can cause premature ageing. So mineral sunscreens are the more natural option and are generally also free from toxic ingredients such as parabens, silicones and synthetic fragrance.


When choosing a mineral sunscreen, look out for natural ingredients such as fruit and plant extracts, which act as natural moisturisers to keep your skin healthy and glowing. Creams containing antioxidants may also help to protect against the oxidative damage caused by free radicals as a result of sun exposure. 


Lastly, follow the advice of Cancer Research UK’s sun safety campaign, which is to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses; stay in the shade between 11am and 3pm; and apply a sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 and a four-star rating. 


Enjoy your time in the sun safely!


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