This sort of research + opinion article is all very theoretical. A lot of it is up for interpretation. The source you consume from needs to align with your personal values. I’ve done my best to explain my stance + list my sources.
Ingredients in red rank high on the Environmental Working Groups substance list as toxic, I would personally avoid them. Underlined ingredients rank low.
Innerworkings of Sunscreen/Sunscreen Ingredients (1,2,3,4)
After researching how sunscreen works, it’s important to point out the two types of UV Radiation, UVA + UVB. UVA penetrates deep into the skin + can heighten the risk for skin cancer as well as cause visual aging: wrinkles, sun spots, etc. UVB is the radiation responsible for burns. Dermatologists recommend the use of an SPF of at least 30 to block 97% of the UVB rays. SPF refers to how quickly a persons skin will turn red, so it’s only referencing UVB rays. I’ll personally be seeking a Broad Spectrum sunscreen of 30SPF or higher.
- Physical Blockers: These ingredients reflect UV rays, including both UVA + UVB (broad spectrum coverage). “Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide at the micro-sized level (0.1 to 10.0 micrometers (um) or 100 to 10,000 nanometers (nm) wide) are better able to remain on your skin and not leach into the marine environment. These micro-sized particles are also unable to permeate the skin or blood-brain barriers within the body. Unfortunately, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are being used more frequently at the nanoparticle size level (<100 nm) mainly due to their ability to rub in. Multiple studies have found that nano-sized Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are significantly more toxic to marine life, and potentially humans, than their micro-sized counterparts.”(5) The EWG presents conflicting evidence that a large number of studies have produced no evidence that zinc oxide or titanium dioxide nanoparticles can cross skin in significant amounts.:
- Zinc Oxide: inhalation concerns are present – do not purchase in a spray, evidence suggests that few if any zinc or titanium particles penetrate the skin to reach living tissues.
- Titanium Dioxide: shown to cause genetic damage in mice as well as heart issues + accumulate in the liver/kidneys, inhalation concerns are present – do not purchase in a spray as it may be a carcinogen when inhaled, evidence suggests that few if any zinc or titanium particles penetrate the skin to reach living tissues.
- Chemical Absorbers: These ingredients absorb UV rays, they absorb the UV radiation through their chemical bonds:
- Avobenzone: toxic to aquatic life + can cause hyperplasia due to impurity Benzaldehyde + Acetophenone, established contact allergen. Could be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after no longer being used
- Oxybenzone: absorbs into the skin + is present in urine long after usage, endocrine disruptor, associated with birth weight issues, known toxin – may behave like estrogen. The US allows dangerous concentrations in sunscreens, whereas the EU limits concentrations. Could be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after no longer being used
- Octisalate: Could be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after no longer being used
- Octocrylene: degrades in the bottle to a known carcinogenic/endocrine disrupting compound – benzophenone. The US allows dangerous concentrations in sunscreens, whereas the EU limits concentrations. Could be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after no longer being used.
- Homosalate: potential endocrine disruptor, may impact hormones. It may also enhance absorption of pesticides in the body. The US allows dangerous concentrations in sunscreens, whereas the EU limits concentrations. Could be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after no longer being used
- Octinoxate: Could be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after no longer being used, banned in several countries due to harm to aquatic life
- Other Active Ingredients:
- Mexoryl SX
- Aminobenzoic Acid, PABA, Trolamine Salicylate: The FDA proposes classifying these as unsafe
Is my sunscreen “green-washed” or is it actually safer per the guidelines set forth above?
Here are a few brand breakdowns for commonly used sunscreens that were submitted to me via Instagram as thought to be non-toxic / “clean”. I will not be covering ANY spray sunscreens as it increases the likelihood of inhalation + none of the active ingredients in any sunscreen should be inhaled. In order of most used per that survey:
- Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion/Stick: The active ingredient is Zinc Oxide, this is a good start. However, the inactive ingredients lose me – none are particularly horrible, but a good number of them are middle-of-the-road receiving a ‘C’ grading by EWG where an ‘F’ is the worst – just like school. I know there are better alternatives to most of the ingredients they are using, so this brand is not worth the added risk for me personally.
- Supergoop Sunnyscreen For Babies (NOT THE SPRAY, I do not recommend spray sunscreen especially for babies): I’m choosing to evaluate this option over their many because it should be their lowest tox option available. Zinc Oxide + Titanium Dioxide are the active ingredients, which is good. C9-12 Alkane is #4 in the inactive ingredients + suspected of causing genetic defects as well as being toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects. There are a number of middle-of-the-road ingredients not worth the risk to me, but also Glyceryl Stearate (impurity issues linked to a slew of possible problems). Also contains Sodium Phytate. This is one that ranks well on EWG, that I don’t agree with. I won’t be using Supergoop Sunnyscreen, especially for babies.
- Alba Botanica Fragrance Free Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen: While Titanium Oxide + Zinc Oxide are the active ingredients, the 3rd inactive ingredient is Dimethicone. There are also a few other middle-of-the road ingredients.
- Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen: The active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, big win. I’ve personally purchased this for my family + was disappointed to find Cetyl Dimethicone (a silicone), which is linked to nervous/digestive system effects + acute aquatic toxicity. Further research links silicone to a slew of possible problems when used in cosmetics/skincare. Outside of this one ingredient, the rest is great, not sure I’d put it on my baby though.
- Baby Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Fragrance-Free: My thought is that the Baby Bum version of Sun Bum sunscreen should logically be their lowest tox, so let’s examine. Zinc Oxide is the active ingredient here. Some ingredients with no info + Cetearyl Alcohol. There are also a slew of middle-of-the-road ingredients. Probably won’t be slathering this on my baby either.
- Young Living Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50: Zinc Oxide acts as the active ingredient along with a few middle-of-the-road ingredients. All-in-all there is nothing “terrible” in this sunscreen.
- Babyganics SPF 50 Sunscreen: With it’s number 1 active ingredient being Octisalate – this is a rather greenwashed product as it’s not what I’d consider mineral based.
- All Badger Balm Brand Sunscreens: WOW WOW WOW. Yes, please – more. This is what I’ve been looking for. Non-nano zinc oxide to boot!
- Coola: This is a big, big no from me – as they utilize chemical absorbers in lieu of minerals.
Some other brands I’d personally not use: Hello Bello, Elta MD, Arbonne, Farmhouse Fresh Elevated Shade, Australian Gold, Aveeno Baby, MyChelle, Cerave, Goddess Garden, Alastin, Epionce, Cocokind, Tubby Todd, Bare Republic, Consonant, Farmacy, Babo Botanicals
The “Gold Standard” for Non-Toxic:
These are brands I would personally buy for my family (including babies/children):
- Blessing Moon Herbs Sun Balm (‘TASHATINDALL’ for 10% off): Their secret ingredient being an old Hawaiian Man-O-War sting remedy – Naupaka Berries. Every single ingredient in this option is Non-GMO + Organic, likely evenly sustainably foraged by the makers themselves. Their products come in a 4 oz steel container (so no aluminum).
- Earth Mama Organics: Reef-safe + body safe NON-NANO zinc is used in this sunscreen. UVA/UVB protection + water resistant. A bit more cost-friendly than it’s other “gold standard” competitors! I always suggest purchasing directly from the website (link above), but if you prefer Amazon, here is a link.
- Badger: I believe this is the most readily available option + dang do they do a good job with their sunscreen. Pick any option + feel safe with badger. Cheapest to buy on Thrive Market (this link will give you 25% off your first purchase), but also available on Amazon, just click here.
- Raw Elements (‘TASHA’ for 10% off): This is your coconut-free option! I know some of y’all need this. They’re incredible + use non-nano zinc oxide. Their face tint is like butter!
- Thrive Market Mineral Sunscreen: The most cost-effective option on the list, but you need a Thrive Market Membership (this link will give you 25% off your first purchase) to purchase. This is also the most cost-effective way to purchase Badger.
- Mama Kuleana: 100% Microplastic Free, Fully Biodegradable and Compostable SCREW TOP Bio Jars – this is your sustainable option.
- BALM! Baby: Can double as a diaper rash ointment due to the amount of non-nano zinc oxide being used. Sustainable as it comes in a glass jar or recyclable/biodegradable stick.
- Manda Naturals: Cheapest to buy on Thrive Market (this link will give you 25% off your first purchase), but also available on Amazon, just click here.
- Rowe Casa Organics: Ingredients are on point, but I can’t find the SPF
Photo by Rachel Cook on Unsplash
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