Clean Sunscreen 101 | Branding

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The clean beauty movement is all about being healthy by making informed choices about what we consume and recycle back into the earth.  There’s so much new information out there about the effects that different skincare ingredients have on our bodies.  Each time you apply sunscreen at the beach and go swimming, those ingredients are put right back into the ocean where they then have a detrimental effect on coral reefs, marine life, and biodiversity. To us, it’s important to know exactly what’s in our sun protection – and the effect it has on human and global health.

In addition to bleaching coral reefs, the harmful chemicals found in many conventional sunscreens can wreak havoc on our bodies. Many conventional sunscreens include ingredients to help them penetrate into your skin to stay on better. As a result, they are absorbed into the body and the bloodstream. In sunscreens with chemical active ingredients, this causes more harm than good.

There are two kinds of active ingredients in sunscreen: mineral and chemical filters. Chemical sunscreen typically contains a combination of oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Chemical filters are absorbed into the skin while little if any of the mineral particles penetrate the tissue.

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Jan Traid

Most conventional sunscreens use chemical ingredients. Studies have shown that several chemical UV filters are known hormone disruptors. Since hormones control much of your body, it’ can be dangerous to mess with their natural balance. Physicians have also reported high numbers of sunscreen-related skin allergies as many common chemical filters have been shown to be skin sensitizers.

According to the CDC, 97% of Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone. This hormone-disrupting ingredient has been associated with altered birth weight in humans, allergic reactions, potent-anti-androgenic effects, and biochemical and cellular level changes. Octinoxate, another widespread filter, has also been shown to have an effect on hormones and lead to developmental and reproductive toxicity. It can also produce estrogen-like effects similar to oxybenzone. On top of that, both of these ingredients are linked to coral bleaching. Recently, a study by the Environmental Health Perspective scientists found that octinoxate caused complete bleaching of coral even at very low concentrations. Coral reefs in Hawaii are exposed to over 6,000 tons of sunscreen lotion every year.

Before bleaching:



After bleaching


Fight For Our Reef

However, despite the growing body of research, the FDA has yet to review the new evidence.  In fact, it has grandfathered in a slew of ingredients that have been used since the 1970s, when ingredient safety was first considered. Given what we know now, this information is far outdated.  In fact, the Danish EPA reviewed the safety of sunscreen ingredients in 2015 and concluded that the majority lack adequate information to ensure their safety.

Despite the known risks, these ingredients remain approved worldwide. So we have to educate ourselves as consumers to make informed decisions. Go for mineral sunscreens with zinc or zinc and titanium to protect your skin and the earth. 

Pro tip:  Check the inactive ingredients too! On in particular, the preservative methylisothiazolinone, is a major skin sensitizer/allergen.

Here are a few to get you started:

Raw Love All Natural Mineral Sunscreen>

Badger Balm Active Clear Zinc Sunscreen Cream>

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen>

For a full list of harmful chemicals and their effects, check out the EWG sunscreen guide.

Header photo: Unsplash