If I go down in history as the Wikipedia of mineral sunscreens, I might be just a little proud of that moniker.
Since 2010 my family has tested natural zinc-based sunscreens rated safe by EWG every single summer, and by 2017 we had reached a milestone of over 100 different tubes, tins, and sticks tested!
My children don’t even realize until mid-elementary school that all families don’t put two different sunscreens on each person while Mom is taking notes on how smoothly they go on, then studying each person’s skin at the end of the day to see if anyone burned or tanned unevenly!
Why the almost obsessive focus on testing natural sunscreens?
Because I believe that the world is drowning in endocrine disruptors, sprinkling free radicals around like candy at a parade, sabotaging the natural beauty and ecosystemic necessity of coral reefs AND to top it all off, not even protecting well-meaning human beings from the sun damage and skin cancer about which we’re all so terrified.
It should be obvious that natural sunscreens are the way to go, but culture works against us in many ways. Although when I started testing, many zinc-based sunscreens were thick, white, and difficult to apply, I was still convinced that they were vitally important and set off on a mission to prove to people that I could find options that were easy to use.
In the years since many natural brands have joined the field, and I’m proud to say that families can now find many options that go on smoothly, resist water, and really WORK.
But big spotlight sources like Consumer Reports refuse to test those that are my favorites, instead focusing on a select few and finding them to be insufficient, presenting the results in a way that makes the common shopper feel that s/he has no safe options that actually work.
I vehemently disagree!
I hope I live to see the day that every mother cringes when spray sunscreen wafts through the air at a public pool, or better yet – the day that sunscreens with endocrine-disrupting chemicals are banned altogether from commercial sale, not just for use in Hawaii.
Until that day, I have a lot of work to do to convince people why they should NEVER use sunscreens that have any active ingredients other than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
I know more than one of these four reasons will convince you!
Conventional Sunscreen Stops Preventing Burns Quickly
Here’s how most sunscreen works: The chemical active ingredients in most sunscreens biodegrade via chemical reactions with the sun itself – in the processing of absorbing the rays they’re protecting your skin from, they’re becoming less and less effective.
THAT’S why we’re told to reapply every few hours, because the sunscreen has literally broken down and is no longer doing its job. In contrast, zinc oxide is a mineral, and it’s not going to break down or become ineffective – ever.
This means that while an outrageous SPF like 100 (or even 50) feels like it’s keeping you safe, far too many people are lulled into complacency assuming that one application will protect them for the day.
And worse yet, far too many conventional sunscreens rely on chemicals that only protect from UVB rays, the ones that cause burns. Unless a sunscreen is “broad spectrum” and includes enough avobenzone to protect from UVA rays, those that cause aging and cancer, you’re simply avoiding a sunburn while increasing your risk of cancer in a very dangerous way.
Typically people know they’ve had too much sun exposure when they see a sunburn, but if you don’t see the burn, you stay out even longer – while all those UVA rays are penetrating your skin unannounced.
Your Sunscreen May CAUSE Cancer
It gets worse: The byproducts of the chemical reaction between your sunscreen and the sun are called free radicals. Heard of them before?
They cause cancer. And they’re being given off by the cream you just applied in hopes of…preventing cancer. You see how this quickly becomes counter-productive.
The sunscreen has also been absorbed into your skin, and the research hasn’t proven it yet, but it’s possible that free radicals bouncing around beneath the skin are even more harmful than those generated by sun exposure and certainly more dangerous than the byproduct of zinc oxide + sun, which is heat.
A 2007 review in the Lancet even suggested that chemical sunscreens may increase predictors of melanoma and reported that “a recent systematic review failed to show a beneficial effect in preventing malignant melanomas by sunscreens.” (Lautenschlager, Wulf, Pittelkow; The Lancet 2007: Photoprotection)
Let’s get this quite clear: Not only are conventional, chemical sunscreens not proven to protect against the worst skin cancer, but they may CAUSE cancer themselves! And they lose effectiveness against sunburn after just a few hours in the sun.
Why are we putting this on and rubbing it into our skin, our largest organ that absorbs readily and impacts our health?
Perhaps it’s because we’d like a little more estrogen in our system.
That’s right – when I interviewed this Stanford-trained biochemist, he explained that “one application of conventional sunscreen on a bikini-clad woman is equal to daily hormonal therapy for menopause.”
Your Sunscreen Is Probably a Hormone Disruptor
That may be because some sunscreens use parabens as a preservative, known endocrine disruptors that mimic hormones in our bodies. Not all sunscreens contain parabens though. Some of the chemical constituents are also endocrine disruptors. (Sources: 1, 2, 3)
In a world where some fish are born with both male and female parts and human infertility feels rampant, this isn’t something to mess around with. By the way, did I mention that sunscreen ingredients have “environmental persistence,” meaning that they stay around in nature for a long, long time?
The only sunscreens rated “reef safe” are mineral options, so if you care about animals, quit letting chemical sunscreens wash off your skin into our waterways.
People, too – synthetic hormones are NOT filtered out of drinking water at the municipal level, so what you choose to wear to protect yourself from the sun will also affect MY kids and our whole society.
Your Sunscreen Is Killing Coral Reefs
In 2015 Haereticus Labs published a study in the Journal of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology showing that oxybenzone, a common ingredient in almost all conventional sunscreens and thousands of other products, is “highly toxic to juvenile corals.” (See the press release here and download the full PDF here.)
The state of Hawaii listened with alarm, and in 2018 they introduced a bill that would ban oxybenzone and octinoxate, two of the worst offending sunscreen active ingredients. Now that it is law, you can’t use sunscreens with those ingredients in Hawaii starting in 2021. As always, there’s controversy about these bans (which have since been replicated in Key West, FL, Palau and other islands), but I feel that for both humans and the environment, we need to be more conservative and be as safe as possible, as soon as possible!
Let’s find some sun protection with clean, safe ingredients!
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If you need help finding a suitable SAFE sunscreen, here are my family’s favorite mineral sunscreens.Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.