It is spring, and the sun is shining. I love this season here! “Choose your sunscreen wisely. The ingredients, the chemicals, will absorb in your child’s body and cause harm, cancer and destroy her reproductivity.” “Did you know that your sunscreen is harmful to marine life and especially coral reefs?” Oh, give me a break, not this! How is everything dangerous? My thoughts and my frustration last year. As a super pale Finn – who burns badly even under the Nordic sun and has different types of skin cancers occurring in the family – I have become pretty strict about sun protection. Of course, I have burned like 40-50 times because, in the eighties, that was not a problem. In the nineties, I was too busy to care, and the early adulthood in the millennium – who thinks about death then? The whole life is ahead. But now, closer to my forties, I am very concerned.
But now I have a child. This threat of melanoma, among the others, has hit me. The poor little one has lived most of her life here in the south – I mean, Massachusetts is VERY south of Finland. The locals don’t even understand how strongly the sun here burns until they visit the Arctic circle. My daughter has been that kid who sweats under a hat (scalp burns because the hair is nordic fine) and wears long sleeve shirts oh so often. If there is any exposed skin, it gets a thick layer of sunblock with an SPF of 70-100. Now it seems that I have been poisoning her and destroying the reefs. Great. Sorry.
Why are some sunscreens harmful to the environment and probably to us as well?
There are two types of sunscreens; chemical ones that absorb the rays in themselves and mineral ones, which block the radiation – they are like shields.
The chemicals in sunscreens that got FDA’s attention were: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate. Now it has been shown that these chemicals do absorb into our bodies through our skin. They can be found in our blood for weeks and even end up in breastmilk. That is the reason FDA is demanding more data. There is a possibility that these chemicals might cause health problems, such as fertility issues and cancer.
We already know that especially oxybenzone and octinoxate (OMC) have a negative effect on corals and aquatic life. These include problems with immune systems, photosynthesis, reproduction, and fertility. Additionally, these chemicals do accumulate in the tissues of animals and transfer forward in the food chain.
What kind of sunscreen is safe to use?
Mineral sunscreens are a safe option. The most common active ingredients in these sun blockers are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide is more effective against long UVA and UVB rays.
You might want to check that the mineral particles are not nanoparticles. “Nanos” don’t leave the annoying white coat on your skin -(there are tinted options available now for the non-nanos, though). Unfortunately, it is not clear yet, whether those extremely tiny nano-sized particles can absorb into your body or not – especially if the skin is not intact. What is for sure, it is harmful to respiratory health to breathe in nano-particles. Nature-wise other types of problems occur. When we shower, those particles end up in our sewer systems and harm the bacteria that help treat wastewater.
Of course, there is a catch with this. It depends on the country, what size of particles are considered to be nano-size.
What to check when buying mineral sunscreen?
I already mentioned the nano-particles. But there is more.
If you buy your mineral sunscreen in a spray bottle, make sure you choose a non-aerosol bottle. Aerosol bottles sometimes have environment-damaging chemicals in them.
And always read the labels. I just found a very nice spray sunscreen from a brand I used to love. It is marketed and sold as mineral sunscreen. When I checked the label of Active Ingredients:
Homosalate 9.0%, Octisalate 3.0%, Octocrylene 6.0%, Zinc Oxide 7.3%. Seriously. Not worth a hooray…
Mineral sunscreens with sustainable packaging
I ordered different types of mineral sunscreens for my family to test and use this year. I bought three products from EarthHero and two from Package Free. It was challenging to find over 50 SPF ones and anything with zero plastic packagings – but it is doable.
I chose two different “All Good” spray sunscreens – sport and kids- from Earth Hero, even though those have a bit of plastic on the bottle noses. These are “non-nano,” and “non-aerosol”. Luckily I can send the plastic parts back to EarthHero, and they will recycle them through the Terra cycle. With the All Good Zinc Sunscreen butter I chose not to test the tinted one because the reviews knew to tell that the shades are pretty dark, and my natural skin color is more like a beluga whale – unfortunately. If you want to test this butter, notice that the tin is small – smaller than your palm.
From Package Free, I found one compostable stick -Raw Elements SPF 30+. I hope that product will be great! The other one is a lotion – from Raw Elements as well – with SPF 30+ and zero plastic in the tin. (This one became my favorite!)
I am excited to get testing and will share the results and experience soon!