What To Look For
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) did a study on 1,104 name brand sunscreens that are available in the United States. Only 15 percent of the sunscreens tested by EWG were deemed safe and effective. The leading brands of sunscreens found in supermarkets and drugstores worldwide tended to be the worst offenders. Chemicals in sunscreens can be absorbed through the skin and enter the body. Some of these chemicals have properties that pose cancer risks and disrupt natural hormone activity in the body. In addition, many of the chemicals break down when exposed to the sun, making them ineffective at blocking UVA and UVB rays.
The majority of the sunscreens that made it onto the EWG safe and effective sunscreen list were free of harmful chemicals. Instead, these natural sunscreens use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active sunblocking ingredient. Both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are effective sunblocks that do not penetrate the skin. They provide a physical barrier that stops the UV rays from entering the skin's surface. Because these chemicals do not enter the skin, they are believed to be safe for use when applied topically.
Both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to leave a white residue on the skin's surface. To combat this problem, sunscreen manufacturers use micronized zinc oxide and micronized titanium dioxide. Micronization is when the particles are made into tiny nanoparticles so that they are not visible on the skin's surface. These nanoparticles are still too large to enter beneath the skin's surface, but they should not be inhaled. According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is limited evidence that inhalation may pose a risk of cancer. As a precaution against the possible risks associated with inhalation, EWG recommends against using spray-on zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreens.
As of this time, there is no perfect sunscreen available on the market. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens appear to be the safest and best choices available. They provide good protection against harmful rays and are considered safe because they do not enter beneath the skin's surface. Look for sunscreen products that list zinc oxide and or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. Steer clear of aerosol spray sunscreens to prevent inhalation of the products.
Some of the natural chemical free sunscreens tend to be thick and greasy. If the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is not micronized, the product tends to leave a slightly visible white layer on the skin. The whiteness tends to be more noticeable on darker skinned individuals. Cosmetics do a good job of covering the white appearance of the sunscreen. If the transparent white appearance is too noticeable on your skin, try a natural sunscreen that uses micronized zinc oxide or micronized titanium dioxide. An added benefit of the micronized products is that they are less greasy and thick.
The Environmental Canada Domestic Substance List reports that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide accumulate and persist in the environment, posing potential risks to the environment and wildlife. When wearing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreens, avoid washing off in streams to prevent exposing the water source to the sunscreen ingredients.
Where To Buy
Sunscreens free of harmful chemicals are sold in health food stores. Whole Foods Market is one of the large retail health food chains that sells natural sunscreens in their stores. Natural sunscreens can also be purchased directly through the manufacturers' websites.
Natural sunscreens are more expensive than the chemical ones because of the higher quality ingredients contained in the products. The natural sunscreen manufacturers include natural inactive ingredients that are beneficial to skin health. Natural sunscreen products generally range in cost from $10 to $30 per bottle.
Soleo/Wyland Organic chemical free sunscreen SPF 30+ made the top spot on the EWG safest sunscreen list. It is a water-resistant sunscreen that contains zinc oxide. This product is moisturizing and good for dry skin types. Price Range: $28 to $30 for a 2.6-ounce bottle.
California Baby Sunblock Stick No Fragrance SPF 30+ made number 6 on EWG's list. It is a water-resistant kids' sunblock that contains titanium dioxide. Price range: $10 to $15 for a 1/2-ounce stick.
Devita International Devita Daily Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30 is number 15 on EWG's list. This sunscreen is good for all skin types. It is a transparent sunscreen that does not leave a visible or greasy residue. Price range: $23 to $27 for a .60-ounce jar.
Article Written By Rose Kivi
Rose Kivi has been a writer for more than 10 years. She has a background in the nursing field, wildlife rehabilitation and habitat conservation. Kivi has authored educational textbooks, patient health care pamphlets, animal husbandry guides, outdoor survival manuals and was a contributing writer for two books in the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Series.