Why Natural Sunscreens are Preferred
The skin is the largest organ of the human body and almost everything we put on it, is absorbed systemically. When it comes to sunscreen, this fact is especially important because users are directed to apply liberally and reapply frequently. That can add up to a lot of exposure to the ingredients in that product, which is especially concerning for infants and small children.
There are basically two types of sunscreens: chemical and mineral (natural). Chemical sunscreens contain two or more chemicals to filter sun away from the skin. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide, which are the ingredients recommended by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a US activist organization that specializes in advocacy against toxic chemicals.
Regarding chemical sunscreens, the EWG concludes that “Laboratory studies indicate that some chemical UV filters may mimic hormones, and physicians report sunscreen-related skin allergies, which raises important questions about unintended human health consequences from frequent sunscreen application.”
According to dermatologist Raja Sivamani, MD, who is an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Dermatology and Director of Clinical Research at the University of California, Davis, “zinc oxide has the broadest protection of all the ingredients as it is able to block UVB and UVA effectively.” While Sivamani feels natural sunscreens are the preferred choice, he also believes that using sunscreen, even chemical sunscreens if that’s all that’s available, is more important than not using any sunscreen because of the dangers caused by overexposure to the sun.
The scientific literature is clear that the most dangerous chemical ingredient in sunscreens is oxybenzone (benzophenone-3). The authors of a 2018 review featured in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology conclude: with “the availability of more effective sunscreen actives such as micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, serious doubts about the relative prevention benefit of personal care products containing oxybenzone must be raised and compared with the potential negative health and environmental effects caused by the accumulation of this and other chemicals in the ecosystem.” This chemical and others that are featured in sunscreens have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking hormonal activity in the human body which can over time harm health.
The good news is that according to the EWG, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of mineral-based sunscreen products now available. The organization reports that “Sunscreens using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to rate well in our analysis. They are stable in sunlight, offer a good balance between protection from the two types of ultraviolet radiation – UVA and UVB – and don’t often contain potentially harmful additives.”
There are many different brands of all-natural sunscreens to choose from, containing no harmful chemicals, safe for all ages, and for the environment too!
DiNardo JC, Downs CA. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 2018;17(1):15-19.
Environmental Working Group. EWG’s Sunscreen Guide. https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/executive-summary/ Accessed May 2019.
Ruszkiewicz JA, Pinkas A, Ferrer B, et al. Toxicology Reports. 2017;4:245-259.
Wang J, Pan L, Wu S, et al. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2016;13(8):782.