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Is your sunscreen toxic? How to find natural sunscreen

It’s one of life’s unfortunate ironies that in slapping on sunscreen to protect our skin against cancer-causing rays, we may actually increase our exposure to carcinogenic chemicals. Thankfully, this is one situation where safe and effective alternatives are available.

Generic sunscreens can contain all manner of nasties, including oxybenzone and octocrylene. Avoiding these need not mean forgoing sunscreen entirely, however, nor does it mean that the smart move is to rely on coconut oil or olive oil as a natural sunscreen (they afford very little protection, as I explain below).

In this post, we will give you the rundown on how to find a safe, effective, and natural sunscreen suitable for use by the whole family.

Why choose natural? Toxins in Sunscreens

For sunscreen to be useful, we’re supposed to apply a thick coating over large areas of skin, and to reapply regularly. Shouldn’t these products be free, then, of chemicals that can irritate skin, cause allergic reactions, or upset cellular metabolism? And, shouldn’t sunscreen sprays and lip sunscreens be free from chemicals that can irritate the lungs or gut, in case we inadvertently ingest or inhale them?

In an ideal world, yes.

Penetration enhancers in sunscreen

Unfortunately, many sunscreens not only fail to protect the skin as they should, they can also cause skin damage, disrupt hormones, and form potentially harmful breakdown products that affect our overall health. Sunscreen manufacturers also like to use ‘penetration enhancers’ to enable the creams and lotions to stick to the skin. This means that any nasty chemicals have an easier time getting through the skin and into general circulation. In fact, it’s not unheard of for undesirable chemicals from sunscreens to end up in breast milk, blood, and urine, as well as to build up in tissues in the body.

Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms: mineral sunblock and chemical filters. Chemical filters are the most common active ingredients and usually comprise a combination of oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Most sunscreens contain at least two of these chemicals. Mineral sunblocks usually include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide either alone or in combination. A few products use both chemical and mineral ingredients.

Organic sunscreen may actually be bad for you

A word on the word ‘organic’ in relation to sunscreens: chemical sunscreens are, somewhat confusingly, ‘organic’, while mineral blocks are ‘inorganic’. As such, a sunscreen referred to as ‘organic’ may actually be worse for your health than one that contains ‘inorganic’ ingredients. Confused? That’s understandable. Chemistry is weird in its nomenclature.

The 5 worst toxins in sunscreen

Putting that confusion aside for a moment, what you really need to know about toxins in sunscreens is that there are five key culprits to look out for (currently):

  1. Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, or BP-3)
  2. Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate)
  3. Homosalate
  4. Octocrylene
  5. Methylisothiazolinone.

We’ll discuss each of these below, but first I should also mention that many products also contain a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate.

Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging, which sounds good, right? Yes, but… studies suggest that when used on the skin, retinyl palmitate may actually react with sunlight to trigger the development of skin tumors and lesions (R). Retinyl palmitate may also be listed as retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol on product labels, and is best avoided.

Another thing to consider is the use of products containing sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and/or sodium lauryl sufate (SLS) prior to applying sunscreen. These are often included in body wash and other soaps and are two of those ‘penetration enhancers’ I mentioned above (as is DEET). So, try to avoid using products that contain SLS or SLES as they may accentuate the negative effects of those chemicals listed above.

Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, or BP-3)

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If your sunscreen contains oxybenzone, I’d recommend throwing it away, putting on a sun-shirt, and going to the store to buy something new. Or, better yet, order a natural, organic, oxybenzone-free sunscreen online and have it delivered!

Oxybenzone is one of the most common active ingredients in sunscreens. It absorbs and scatters the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and is sometimes used in plastic bottles and containers to protect the contents.

The ubiquity of oxybenzone in everyday products means it’s not surprising that more than 97% of Americans have the chemical swilling about in their bodies (R). If you regularly use sunscreen, chances are even higher that you’ve been exposed to this chemical (Zamoiski 2015). Even if you don’t use sunscreens that contain this chemical, though, you may still be exposed to oxybenzone. That’s because when it is washed off, it enters the water supply and is ingested by fish and other animals that you might then consume. Oxybenzone has been linked to coral reef bleaching and toxic reactions in fish, meaning that it’s not just bad for us directly, it’s bad for the health of our oceans and wider environment (R).

Oxybenzone can also react with chlorine to produce hazardous by-products that can become concentrated in swimming pools and wastewater treatment plants (R). And, even more bad news, oxybenzone is also present in drinking water because water treatment plants do not remove the chemical as standard (R). A water filter certainly seems smart, then, no?

Why is oxybenzone so bad? Well, this chemical causes allergic skin reactions in a significant number of people (Rodriguez 2006), is an endocrine disruptor, and has been linked to Hirschsprung’s disease (R).

Oxybenzone has a weak estrogenic effect and potent anti-androgenic activity (Krause 2012, Ghazipura 2017). In one laboratory study, oxybenzone increased proliferation of human breast cancer cells (R). In a study using rats, the chemical increased uterine weight (), and other research suggests it may be a factor in endometriosis in humans ().

Other research also found signs of endocrine disruption associated with oxybenzone. In one study, researchers noted that exposure to this chemical during pregnancy was associated with premature birth of male babies. Another study found lower birth weights for female babies. And a third study noted higher birth weights in male babies (Ghazipura 2017).

One small, very short, study found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone levels had significantly lower total testosterone levels (Scinicariello 2016). An interventional study in adult men also found that using a lotion containing oxybenzone was associated with decreases in testosterone and an increase in another hormone, inhibin B (Janjua 2004). While these changes could be natural variation, the study was too short to really tell us much

Thankfully, even switching to oxybenzone-free toiletries for a few days can dramatically reduce levels of this chemical in your body, at least according to one study carried out at the University of California, Berkeley (R). This study, which involved 100 adolescent girls, found that the girls’ urinary levels of oxybenzone decreased by 36% after just 3 days of switching their conventional personal care products for replacement products that did not contain these chemicals. Levels of certain phthalates and parabens, and triclosan, also declined by 27–45%. And, when researchers narrowed in on the 30 girls who reported using sunscreen at the start of the trial, oxybenzone concentrations were found to have decreased by 52%. Overall, switching to the oxybenzone-free toiletries led to decreased urinary concentrations of this chemical in 65% of participants in the study.

I should also note that oxybenzone enhances the absorption of the insect repellent N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) and vice versa (R).

My recommendation, then, is to studiously avoid products containing oxybenzone, which may also be listed as benzonenon-3 (BP-3), or 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone.

Octinoxate (octylmethoxycinnamate)

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Octinoxate, also known as octylmethoxycinnamate (OMC) and 2-ethylhexyl 4-methoxy cinnamate, is, like oxybenzone, bad news for your health. This chemical is common in sunscreens and has been associated with allergic skin reactions and endocrine disruption resulting in thyroid issues and behavioral anomalies. As with oxybenzone, it’s best to stay well away from sunscreens containing this chemical.

Happily, OMC is not as readily absorbed in the skin as oxybenzone (R), but when it is it has been seen to have estrogenic effects, disrupting levels of testosterone and estradiol in humans (R). In one study, OMC was seen to increase the migration and invasion of human breast cancer cells, i.e. increasing metastasis, or the spread of cancer from breast tissue to other areas of the body (R).OMC also seems to affect the hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis, which could have negative effects on growth, development, energy metabolism, and pretty much every system in the body (R).

In rats, OMC has been seen to decrease the hypothalamic release of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) (R) and luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) (R) in vitro. If the same effects happen in humans, OMC would likely have a negative effect on fertility, but it should be noted that the doses used in these studies are very high and not likely to occur in humans.

OMC has also been seen to inhibit the release of neurotransmitters in rats, specifically, aspartate and glutamate in female rats, and glutamate in male rats, while also increasing the release of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in males (R). These effects have not been investigated in humans, so it remains unclear what the effect, if any, would be of OMC on the nervous system, including nervous system development. Given that OMC has been found in breast milk, it seems smart to avoid using sunscreens containing this chemical while pregnant or nursing an infant (R).

Homosalate

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Homosalate is another chemical UV filter commonly included in sunscreens. This ester is formed from salicylic acid (the base for aspirin) and 3,3,5-trimethylcyclohexylsalicylate. It is absorbed into the stratum corneum at a rate of about 10%, with greater absorption noted in the skin of the face compared to the back (R).

As with oxybenzone and OMC, homosalate is a hormone disruptor. It has demonstrated estrogenic effects (R, R) and an antagonistic effect on progesterone and androgen receptors (R, R). Homosalate appears to affect the function of sperm, with possible negative effects on fertility (R). And, in one study, homosalate was seen to increase the migration and invasion (metastasis) of human breast cancer cells (R).

Intriguingly, homosalate and other salates were found in one study to reduce the incidence of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) in mice (R). This condition is used as a model for Multiple Sclerosis, prompting speculation that there may be a beneficial role for these chemicals in decreasing disease progression. Much more research is needed in this area, however, and this preliminary research in no way suggests that using sunscreens containing homosalate may be beneficial if you have MS.

Again, given the potential safety concerns over homosalate and the fact that it has been found in breast milk, it is probably best to avoid this chemical while pregnant or nursing an infant (R). Agricultural workers should be especially careful about using sunscreens and bug repellents containing homosalate, octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), oxybenzone, octyl salicylate, padimate-o, sulisobenzone, and N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET), as these appear to significantly increase skin absorption of the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) (R).

Demonstrating that our choice of sunscreens doesn’t just impact our own health, one recent study found that a sunscreen containing homosalate and oxybenzone had significant negative effects on the growth of sea urchins. A natural sunscreen was also tested and had minimal effect on the sea urchins while being just as effective as the chemical sunscreen for protecting against UV light in human skin cells (R). The natural sunscreen was specifically designed based on tests for efficacy and safety in coral reefs and is now patented but not yet available for purchase.

Octisalate (octyl salicylate)

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Octisalate is, like homosalate, a common chemical found in sunscreens, often alongside avobenzone as a stabiliser. It is an ester formed from salicylic acid and 2-ethylhexanol, and is sometimes listed on products as ethylhexyl salicylate.

Octisalate has been associated with allergic skin responses (R), although at a lower rate than several other sunscreen ingredients. It also seems to enhance the skin penetration of fentanyl (R), and is being investigated for its potential to enhance the absorption of topical hormone treatments and ibuprofen (R). Octisalate may also impair fertility by affecting the function of sperm (R).

And, there’s some evidence that octisalate may promote the demise of coral reefs by making them more vulnerable to infection (R).

Octocrylene

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Compared to the sunscreen ingredients already mentioned, octocrylene (2-ethylhexyl 2-cyano-3,3-diphenylacrylate) has a relatively high rate of skin allergy. In one review, the authors note that an increasing number of people are reporting photocontact allergies to octocrylene, with the reaction most common in people who have a history of use of topical products containing the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ketoprofen (R). A straight-up contact allergy to octocrylene seems to be less common in adults, with most cases seen in children using sunscreen containing the chemical.

There’s a dearth of research on the safety of octocrylene in humans, unfortunately, but in zebrafish, octocrylene has been associated with impaired expression of genes related to brain development and metabolism in the liver (R).

Octocrylene appears to be less problematic than oxybenzone, OMC, and homosalate, in terms of human health. This may, however, simply be because there’s relatively little research on the chemical thus far.

Before we look at the better choice for sunscreens, let’s review the common concerns raised about inorganic ingredients in sunscreens.

The problems with nanoparticles in sunscreens

The two most widely used ingredients in inorganic, mineral, sunblock are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These are highly effective at blocking UV rays and are generally considered the better option for sunscreens, compared to the chemical filters already discussed above. These ingredients do not break down in the sun to create toxic by-products, and they provide strong sun protection including from UVA rays that cause skin cancer (and collagen degradation that leads to wrinkles).

That said, sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide do pose some risks to health if not handled properly. The main concern here is that modern mineral sunscreens are formulated with nanoparticles to minimize the white tint that used to make users look like mimes. These nanoparticles vary greatly in size, shape, and in terms of coatings, are poorly regulated in many countries, and can pose serious health risks if inhaled or ingested.

To get around these concerns, some companies promote their sunscreens as being made with “non-nano” titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Be very wary of these claims as almost all such sunscreens would still be deemed to contain nanoparticles by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. Any sunscreen containing titanium dioxide that is at all transparent will contain nanoparticles as the lotion would otherwise be opaque.

No requirement for disclosure

Unfortunately, sunscreen manufacturers are not required by law to disclose which types of nanoparticles they use in their products, meaning that it can be hard to determine the safety of such sunscreens.

One key thing to note with these types of sunscreens is that nanoparticles can cause serious lung damage if inhaled (titanium dioxide is considered a carcinogen if inhaled in high doses) (R, R). Titanium dioxide is the one of the most commonly used nanoparticles and is present as a white pigment in paint, as a food additive, in food packaging material, sunscreens, cosmetic creams, and even in surgical implants. Research suggests that titanium dioxide is very slow to be eliminated from the body (it has biodurability), meaning that it could accumulate over our lifetime (R).

Titanium dioxide nanoparticles

Titanium dioxide nanoparticles can cross the blood-brain barrier and accumulate in the brain, particularly in the cortex and hippocampus (the seat of memory). Exposure to titanium dioxide nanoparticles has been associated with the activation of microglia and signaling pathways involved in inflammation and cell death, as well as the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), leading to neuroinflammation, impairment of spatial recognition memory and locomotor activity, and further brain injury (R, R).

Titanium dioxide nanoparticles can also cross into fetal circulation and may be present in breast milk (R). In one study in mice, exposure to titanium dioxide nanoparticles in pregnancy significantly impaired the growth and development of placenta. This appeared to be because of negative effects on vascularization (blood vessel growth), as well as cellular proliferation and apoptosis (R).

Non-human animal studies have also found associations between titanium oxide nanoparticle ingestion and cardiovascular damage (R), even at a low dose. That said, titanium dioxide in nanoparticle form has long been used in foodstuffs (R), and other research suggests that is rather poorly absorbed in the intestine (R).

Many scientists are clearly worried, though, about how little we know about the safety of nanosized titanium dioxide in humans. Caution is definitely warranted for people handling nanomaterials at work, and for workers and consumers who are pregnant or nursing an infant. Even inhaling nanoparticles at work can, it seems, have an effect on the gastrointestinal tract (R).

Zinc oxide nanoparticles

Zinc oxide nanoparticles are less biodurable than titanium dioxide, meaning that bioaccumulation is less likely to present an issue (R). Still, inhaling zinc oxide from a spray sunscreen can still cause serious lung irritation.

As nanoparticles could irritate the lungs, enter the bloodstream, and cause damage to internal organs and blood vessels, it is a good idea to avoid spray sunscreens using titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, and to minimize use of lip sunblocks containing nanoparticles. Indeed, earlier this year the European safety agency stated that there was insufficient safety information to allow nanoparticle titanium dioxide to be used in sunscreen sprays (R).

Sunscreen manufacturers also do a delicate balancing act when creating their formulas. Smaller nanoparticles are more transparent (which consumers tend to like better), but larger particles offer greater UVA protection. Most zinc oxide formulas use larger particles that grant greater protection against UVA, while titanium dioxide formulas tend to use smaller particles that offer less UVA protection but are clearer on the skin.

Zinc oxide nanoparticles do not seem to be absorbed into the body from the skin in any significant amount, even when sunscreens were applied twice daily for five days (R). In fact, less than 0.01% of the zinc was estimated to enter the bloodstream in the volunteers in this trial, and the researchers had difficulty figuring out if the zinc in the blood was absorbed as nanoparticles or soluble zinc.

Nanoparticles and skin damage

Nanoparticles in sunscreen can pose a risk of skin damage because they are photocatalysts, meaning that they can form free radicals when exposed to UV rays. Larger particles are less reactive in this regard but are more visible on the skin. To overcome problems of photoreactivity, sunscreen formulas often coat nanoparticles with inert coatings that significantly decrease reactivity with UV radiation (up to a 90% reduction in some cases) and help protect against damaging skin effects (R).

Unfortunately, the US Food and Drug Administration has not provided any clear regulations or recommendations to help protect consumers looking to buy effective and safe sunscreens. In fact, it’s hard to even know from the label of sunscreen products what type of nanoparticles they contain.

As with the chemicals outlined earlier, nanoparticle mineral compounds not only impact human health, they also have the potential to affect other animals and the wider environment. Unfortunately, little research has been done to assess this impact, although one recent study appears to suggest that nanoparticles from sunscreens may have a greater negative impact on zebrafish and coral reefs than some chemical sunscreens (R).

So, what’s the best option for a natural sunscreen that helps support human health without having a serious negative effect on the environment?

The best nontoxic sunscreens

Despite the potential for environmental damage, the best sunscreens for human health appear to be those formulated with zinc oxide. This provides better protection against UVA rays compared to titanium oxide and organic chemicals and is stable in sunlight.

US regulators have only approved zinc oxide and avobenzone as sunscreen ingredients that provide true broad-spectrum protection against UVA wavelengths. Avobenzone has a short-lived absorption capacity, however (it begins to break down after 30 minutes or so) (R), and there are growing concerns over the potential for avobenzone to form undesirable transformation products (including ecotoxins), particularly when it reacts with chlorine (R). As such, if your only option is a sunscreen with avobenzone, try to find one that includes other ingredients (such as triplet quenchers) that help sustain its capacity to protect the skin and avoid undesirable breakdown products (R).

Now, there is another sunscreen option that many people are excited about but that the US FDA has so far failed to approve for widespread use in sunscreens.

Mexoryl

Mexoryl SX (Ecamsule) has been widely available in Europe and in Canada for well over a decade. Sadly, though, it is currently only licensed in the US for use at a specific level in Ombrelle, a product by L’Oreal. That’s because the company stumped up the exorbitant cost to apply for an FDA license, which they received in 2006.

Mexoryl SX is a highly effective chemical sun filter and can be easily combined with other UV filters to create very high SPF formulas (R). Tests performed by L’Oreal (included in their license application) showed that Mexoryl SX absorption is very minimal (at less than 0.1%) and poses no risk to human health. Who wouldn’t want that in their sunscreen?

There is one major drawback with Mexoryl, however. Mexoryl only protects against UV wavelengths in the 290-400 nanometer range. Since this doesn’t cover the entire UV spectrum (UVB is 280 to 320 nanometers), Mexoryl must be combined with another UV filter to provide broad-spectrum coverage. Ombrelle, for example, combines Mexoryl with homosalate, octocrylene, avobenzene, and octisalate. Disappointing, right?

And things aren’t much better In Europe, sadly. There, Mexoryl SX is available as the very popular Anthelios line by La Roche Posay. This formula includes octocrylene, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, and Mexoryl, making it marginally better than the L’Oreal formula. Both Anthelios and Ombrelle contain parabens and other undesirable chemicals, though, so there’s still some work to do before we get the sunscreens we deserve.

My hope is that a product will soon be made available that includes Mexoryl alongside zinc oxide or another natural sunblock. Saffron and quercetin are two intriguing potential sunscreen ingredients that seem to confer UVB protection. In one study, a 4% saffron lotion showed an SPF value equivalent to an 8% homosalate lotion (R).

Are there any other options for natural sunscreen? Well, if you’re equally concerned about your own health and the health of the environment, you may be interested to learn of the existence of a newly patented sunscreen based on ingredients that have all been tested to ensure they don’t damage marine organisms, including coral and the ecosystem that depends on coral reefs. This sunscreen formula includes: diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate, methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol, ethylhexyl triazone and the preservative sorbic acid. The sunscreen has been tested and found to be just as effective as regular chemical sunscreens (R). Sadly, there is currently no consumer version of this sunscreen available.

OK, so with all the analysis out of the way, here’s a quick round-up of recommended sunscreens. As you’ll see, I’ve picked formulas that have broad-spectrum coverage, contain natural ingredients, and have a zinc oxide or zinc oxide and titanium base.

Natural sunscreen brand comparison

BrandIngredientsSPFUV Coverage
Block Island Organics Natural Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 (Top recommendation)Zinc Oxide 22.0%, Inactive Ingredients: Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe Vera Gel) Juice*, Aqua (Deionized Water), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter*, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract*, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus) Oil, Gluconolactone, Glycerin*, Lecithin*, Octyl Palmitate, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Xanthan Gum, Zemea Propanediol30Full
Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, SPF 30Titanium Dioxide 2.0%, Zinc Oxide 14.5%, Inactive Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dimethicone, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Glycerin, Glyceryl Isostearate, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Polyglyceryl -3 Ricineoleate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Alcohol, Magnesium Sulfate, Polyhydroxystearic acid, Silica, Sodium Chloride, Benzyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol30Full
Goddess Garden Organics Everyday Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30Titanium Dioxide 6.4%, Zinc Oxide 6.0%, Inactive Ingredients: Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*, Aluminum Hydroxide, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) *, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (Coconut) oil, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower), Seed Oil*, Glycerin, Glyceryl Caprylate, Glyceryl Stearate Citrate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Sorbitan Oleate, Stearic Acid, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Water, Xanthan Gum30Full
Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, SPF 30Zinc Oxide 18.4%, Inactive Ingredients: Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract*, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract*, Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Methylcellulose, Nasturtium Officinale (Watercress) Flower /Leaf Extract*, Pueraria Lobata (Kudzu) Root Extract*, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil, Sodium Bicarbonate, Spiraea Ulmaria (Meadowsweet) Flower Extract*, Stearic Acid, Water, Xanthan Gum30Full
Kiss My Face Kids Mineral SPF 30 Natural Organic SunscreenTitanium dioxide 6.0%, Zinc oxide 6%; Inactive Ingredients: Cera alba (organic beeswax)*, Helianthus annus (organic sunflower) oil*, Lycium barbarum (goji berry) extract, Punica granatum (pomegranate) extract, Sesamum indicum (organic sesame) oil*.30Full

There are many more natural sunscreens available where the active ingredient is zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. In general, what you want to avoid spray sunscreens whenever you can, especially if they contain nanoparticles, look for a short ingredient list and pick a:

  • a non-chemical sunscreen with micronized zinc oxide (or titanium dioxide)
  • a sunscreen with an SPF factor of 50 or lower (anything higher is misleading, according to the FDA and the Environmental Working Group).

 Given the potential hazards associated with sunscreens, it’s worth reiterating that sunscreens should be your last resort for sun protection. You’re far better staying in the shade, wearing a sun-shirt, and carrying a parasol than covering your body with sunscreen several times a day. But, when sunscreen is necessary, your best options are to choose one of the ones recommended above!

Leigh Matthews

Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT, is a health and wellness writer specializing in plant-based nutrition. A long-time vegan, Leigh is interested in nutriepigenetics, diet as preventative medicine, and the politics of food justice.

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