Published on June 12th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans
Natural Sunscreen – Not Always from a Bottle
Gone are the days of sitting out on your front walk, coated with suntan lotion, tinfoil reflectors framing your face to maximize the sun exposure. Back then, a deep, dark tan was the ultimate sign of health.
Not anymore. First the ozone layer developed a hole, then skin cancer warnings were plastered everywhere. It’s now considered irresponsible and unhealthy to purposely sit out in the sun for prolonged periods of time without skin protection, but many of the products promised as protection carry physical and environmental risks…
- Chemical Constituents
- Is There a “Natural” Sunscreen?
- Avoiding Store-Bought Sunblock
- Truly Natural Alternatives
The advent of more advanced sun protection offered hope for improved skin care, until research revealed the dangers of certain ingredients in these common products. Parabens, found in many sunscreens and sunblocks, were outed as estrogen mimics and endocrine disruptors. Commonly used sunscreen ingredients like benzophenone (oxybenzone), octinoxate, cinnamates, and homosalate were found guilty of increasing the risk of cancer!
The addition of nanotechnology—used by the sunscreen industry to make the white, opaque elements of titanium and zinc more transparent—is giving rise to alarm in alternative health circles. When used on the surface of the skin, titanium dioxide is a non-reactive substance …. When made into nano-particle size, however, titanium particles can enter the body through the skin, becoming a highly reactive substance, the potential harm of which has not been extensively studied.
Concurrently, environmentally concerned consumers became alarmed at the effects the new sunscreens were having upon the world around them. Many of the chemical ingredients were found in various waterways, which makes sense, as people often wear sunblock into the water. The result was a disastrous disruption in the hormonal systems of fish and other animals due to the fact that they inhabit and consume the toxic waters.
People wanted to be protected against skin cancer, to be sure, but not at the cost of their overall wellbeing, and not at the expense of environmental health. Thus began the hunt for environmentally responsible, health conscious skin protection…..
In response to the findings, companies started developing what they called “natural” sunscreens and sunblocks, which contained fewer toxic ingredients. As a result, you can now find a plentiful selection of paraben-free products on many store shelves.
But can any sunscreen ingredient be considered completely eco-friendly? Titanium dioxide, long considered one of the least toxic ingredients in sunblock, has recently been linked to some damage to fish populations, though the effects are still not considered excessively harmful.
The addition of nanotechnology—used by the sunscreen industry to make the white, opaque elements of titanium and zinc more transparent—is giving rise to alarm in alternative health circles. When used on the surface of the skin, titanium dioxide is a non-reactive substance that serves as a block to the sun’s harmful rays (unlike the chemicals in sunscreen that absorb UV rays). When made into nano-particle size, however, titanium particles can enter the body through the skin, becoming a highly reactive substance, the potential harm of which has not been extensively studied.
So what’s a health- and planet-conscious consumer to do? Studies have revealed the promise of new biodegradable sunscreen products made with zinc oxide. Ingredients biodegrade without causing harm to the body or to the environment.
The Environmental Working Group used their Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database to perform a study of 785 sunscreens for efficacy and safety. Of the top 10 products listed—including Badger (SPF 30), Lavera Sun Screen Neutral (SPF 40), and UV Natural Adult New Formula 2007 (SPF 30)—all had safety ratings in the “low hazard” category, rating only a 1 on a 1-10 scale for dangerous or envirotoxic ingredients. Of the top ten sunscreens listed, six use a micronized form of zinc oxide.
A footnote on the Skin Deep site noted that although there have not been sufficient studies on the nano-particle forms of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, their research still found these products to be the most effective and least harmful on the market. The marketers of sunscreen products with micronized, or nano-particle zinc oxide, say that it is far less toxic than its cousin, titanium dioxide.
Some folks choose to forgo the chemical sunblock industry all together. They use natural ingredients found at health food stores to create their own sunblock lotion, or they wear sun-protective clothing and limit their time in the sun.
To make your own sunscreen without worries about the possible effects of nanotech elements found in store-bought products: Purchase plain zinc oxide ointment at a drugstore and mix it into your favorite skin lotion to make your own sunscreen.
In addition, consuming plenty of deep green and red produce is said to offer sun-protective benefits and add extra defense against skin cancer.
For people who live in Australia, where two out of three people will be treated for skin cancers during their lifetime, many choose to go one step further. Sun-protective clothing is specially made with a tighter weave to block the harmful rays of the sun and offers the equivalent of approximately SPF 30.
- Australia-based Coolibar is a company that offers sun-protective clothing, swimwear, and hats.
In actuality, there are many options for sun protection that respect both the body and the earth:
- First, use common sense. Try to stay out of the sun during peak sun hours, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when sunburn and sun damage is most likely to occur.
- If you have to be out in the sun during peak hours, try to find a shaded area, an umbrella, or wear a wide-brimmed hat. If you have the budget, check out sun-protective clothing (or find bargains on eBay). Make sure to research protective clothing vendors, as some of them use chemical additives to confer sun-protective abilities into the clothing.
- When you use sunblock, try to choose one that isn’t going to make you worry about carcinogens or environmental toxins. Make your own sunblock with zinc oxide and lotion or check the labels on sunscreens to see that that they don’t contain too many chemicals. Remember, if you can’t pronounce it, you probably don’t want it on your skin! Do your own research to find out what feels best for you and your family.
- Try to eat plenty of dark green, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables, to keep your skin healthy and less prone to skin damage.
- If you do end up with a sunburn, consider natural, eco-friendly remedies for sunburn relief. Aloe vera gel is very soothing and effective. It can either be purchased from a natural foods store or taken directly from an aloe vera plant. A soothing oatmeal bath can also be helpful.
- Finally, remember that every choice you make has some kind of an environmental impact. It’s a good idea to treat the planet kindly by living lightly—you will also reap the benefits!