An Introduction to Natural Sunscreen
Start Using Natural Sunscreens and Other Natural Sunblock Alternatives
Being outdoors is essential to a healthy lifestyle, but we need to be increasingly mindful of protecting our skin from harmful UV rays. Many of us lather ourselves with chemical filled sunscreens, which may be more harmful to your health than the sun itself. Learn how you can protect your skin from the sun with natural sunscreens.
Chemicals in conventional sunscreen
Many of the ingredients used in conventional sunscreens pose their own problems, making the decision whether to use sunscreen or not a difficult one. The list of harmful possibilities is very long (see the Environmental Working Group’s Active Ingredient List for a full breakdown), but consider these potentially harmful ingredients:
- DMDM Hydantoin: This is an added preservative, yet it is a known human immune system toxicant and a suspected skin irritant.
- Octinoxate: This chemical suffers from one of the most common problems with sunscreen ingredients—it is likely to disrupt natural hormone levels, even in small babies. This chemical also has several names, including octyl methoxycinnamate.
- Oxybenzone: Known also as benzophenone-3, oxybenzone is a chemical sunscreen that has come under scrutiny because of concerns about skin irritation and hormone disruption.
- PABA: This chemical goes by many names, including Padimate O and Octyl Dimethyl PABA. The main danger here is that it releases free radicals, which can damage DNA. It has also been linked to hormone disruption and can cause allergic reactions.
- Triethanolamine (TEA): Used as a fragrant ingredient, a pH adjuster, and an emulsifier, TEA is known to be an immune system toxicant, a skin toxicant, and a respiratory toxicant. There is also evidence that it might play a role in organ system damage.
Potential sunblock alternatives
So, what are we to do about the sun? One highly-safe option is to turn to sunscreen clothing—pieces of clothing that provide a good level of Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) varies from one fabric to another—one of the most protective levels is scored at 50 UPF. In general, however, you can follow some simple rules for best sunblock alternatives:
- Silk, wool, and polyester provide the best protection over things like cotton or linen.
- The thicker the clothing and the tighter the weave the better a fabric will be at blocking UV rays, but keep the clothing loose fitting to allow for optimal circulation and better UV absorption.
- Darker is also optimal since dark colors can absorb more UV penetration, giving dark clothing a higher UPF than light clothing.
- Dry clothing has a higher UPF than wet clothing, so keep out of the water if possible.
- Don’t be fooled by labels that tout a UPF rating—these are likely made of synthetic fibers (always try and choose natural fabrics) and treated with UV absorbers which may not be healthy for you.
- Limit your sun exposure to a minimum during high sun hour (11am-3pm).
- Avoid direct sun exposure by finding shade whenever possible.
Finding natural sunscreen
When shopping for your natural sunblock, look for mineral sunscreen ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. As long as these are applied in cream or liquid form (and not spray or powder form that can be inhaled), they are very effective and safe. Even nanoparticle sized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide appear to be quite safe, according to the Environmental Working Group’s study of the material. Here are some natural sunscreen brands you can seek out at your local health food store or online:
For a more detailed list of the top natural sunblocks checkout EWG’s best sunscreen list. If you are a concerned parent searching for the healthiest sunscreen for your baby and child, then check out our Natural Baby Sunscreen aritcle.
1 DMDM Hydantoin. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2010, from Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Cosmetic Database: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient.php?ingred06=702196
2, 4, 6 Sunscreen Guide - About Active Ingredients. (2009). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org/cosmetics/report/sunscreen09/investigation/about-active-SPF-ingredients
3 Concentrations of the Sunscreen Agent Benzophenone-3 in Residents of the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003–2004. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Environmental Health Perspectives: http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info:doi/10.1289/ehp.11269
5 Triethanolamine. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Costmetic Safety Database: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient/706639/TRIETHANOLAMINE/
7 Sunscreens - Nanotechnology - Summary. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Environmental Working Group: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens/nanotech.php