Sunscreen: What You Need to Know Before You Buy
Updated: Aug 7
Have you ever tried to buy a safe, ‘all natural’ sunscreen, to only find out later than it was still full of endocrine-disrupting or harmful chemicals? I understand, I've been there too.
So after the July 2021 recalls of several popular brands of sunscreen that were found to contain benzene (a solvent known to cause cancer), I knew that it was time to shed more light on this topic, so that we can all be more empowered consumers!
In the Quest for Healing Podcast, Episode #41, How to Choose Safe Sunscreen and Safe Skin Care Products with Autumn Blum, Formulator and CEO of Stream2Sea, Autumn and I discussed the different active ingredients in sunscreens, which ones are safe, which ones are harmful, and a few other things for you to consider before your next shopping trip.
Let’s start with the basics - why do you need sunscreen?
Protecting your skin from too much sun exposure is important as it can lead to burns and skin damage. And who wants to worry about that when spending time at the beach or in nature can be so fun and relaxing?
The problem with many sunscreens is that they may contain dangerous chemicals that can absorb into your bloodstream and even your brain. And when you are focused on your health and detoxing your body, do you really want to bring in these toxins?
What are some of the ingredients you should be avoiding?
During the podcast, Autumn discusses some of the endocrine-disrupting ingredients that you will want to avoid in sunscreen (and in your other skin care products as well).
Autumn Blum’s Three Os:
These chemicals are used in sunscreens because they absorb UV radiation, but they are also absorbed into your skin and can be detected in both the bloodstream and urine within 20 minutes of application. And not only are they harmful to humans, but they also end up in the ocean and are harmful to wildlife and the environment as well!
Here are some other ingredients that pose a health hazard:
· Diazolindinyl urea
· DMDM hydantoin
· Retinyl palmitate
· Sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates
· Butyloctyl salicylate (an emerging concern)
· Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate
What is the difference between chemical vs mineral sunscreens?
Sunscreens that use the Three O’s are considered chemical sunscreens because these ingredients work by absorbing the UV radiation.
Mineral sunscreens use titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide to reflect the UV radiation away from your body. And if they are in a ‘non-nano’ form, they won’t be absorbed into your body either.
What does ‘non-nano’ mean? To nanotize something means to break it down into something smaller. And of course, if something is smaller, it is harder to see but more easily absorbed into the skin. The larger non-nano versions of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide remain on the surface of the skin better.
If a company is using non-nano, it assumes that you are an educated consumer and will be looking for these words on the package or in the ingredient listing. If you don’t see the words ‘non-nano’, it is safe to assume they are using nano particles.
You don’t like it when your sunscreen leaves a white residue!
One of the challenges with mineral sunscreens is that they tend to be a thicker, white cream that doesn’t spread as well and can be harder to rub in, resulting in a white film.
As Autumn recommends, there are some application tips that help: use an almond-sized drop for your face and dab dots of it around your face and then rub it in, as opposed to the old technique of just rubbing the blob in your hand across your face.
Another option is to use a tinted mineral sunscreen, so that any color that remains will blend in with your skin color better.
Spray vs. lotion: Lotion is a better option for a couple of reasons – first, you can ensure better coverage with a lotion. And second, you and those around you won’t be breathing in sunscreen and the chemicals used to create the mist!
Each of these have either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredient and are 'non-nano'.
When choosing a sunscreen, it is always important to read the ingredient label not only for the active ingredients, but also for the inactive ingredients so that you can make the best choice for you and your family.
Stream2Sea Sport, SPF 30 ($): I have used this one for a couple of years because I am an avid SCUBA diver and not only is this safe for people, but the active ingredient titanium dioxide is very reef-safe.
Badger Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream ($): I liked this zinc-based sunscreen because I was able to apply it a little more smoothly.
Two Peas Organics, SPF 30 ($): This unscented sunscreen is also zinc-based and it's inactive ingredients are very straight forward. Plus, it is water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Pacific Beach Organics, Riptide Sunscreen, SPF 32: This sunscreen comes in a tin, so the sunscreen is in more of a solid form, which I find helpful when I just need a little for my face when I'm going for a walk or hike.
Note: Some of the links provided here are affiliate links, which means that if you buy using this link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost for you. Affiliate links are annotated with ($).
Where can you learn more?
FREE Download: The Stream2Sea Pocket Guide for Ingredients to Avoid in Skin Care
Quest for Healing, Episode #41: How to Choose Safe Sunscreen and Safe Skin Care Products with Autumn Blum
Even with the recent recall of some dangerous sunscreens, I have seen them still on the shelves of my local stores, so staying informed is the best tool you can have!
Have you found a safe sunscreen that you’ve been enjoying? Please share it in the comments below.