The active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms – mineral and chemical filters. Each may pose a threat to our health. The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of two to six of these active ingredients –
oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. A handful of products combine zinc oxide with chemical filters. Look for straight zinc oxide, a natural sunscreen from your health food store, or DIY at home using coconut or carrot oils.
You’ll find zinc oxide, or another safe, natural sunscreen – containing none of the above chemicals – from your health food store, some pharmacies and online. I personally don’t use sunscreen unless I have to be outside in Summer in the midday sun for longer than about 20 minutes. In this case I use straight zinc oxide, and cover up – Slip, Slop on zinc and Slap.
What you’ll find in most sunscreens –
Oxybenzone: Terrible stuff. Its primary function is to absorb ultraviolet light. Oxybenzone is also believed to cause hormone disruptions and cell damage that may provoke cancer. According to EWG:2. ‘…the chemical oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can trigger allergic reactions. Data are preliminary, but studies have found a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and health harms. One study has linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women; another found that women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters.’
Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A palmitate): Sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol, and retinyl palmitate. The problem occurs when this form of vitamin A is exposed to the sun (as opposed to when it is used in night cream, for example), which is why sunscreens that contain it should be avoided.
Fragrance: This term covers any number of harmful chemicals that do not have to be listed individually on the label.