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  • Writer's pictureHelen

Suncreams - what to look for

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

I have quite sensitive skin and most of the time I slap on the suncream when going out in the sun. In the past I haven't given much thought to the make of suncream I purchase as I usually buy it when in an airport. Recently I have been reading and researching more about what's in our suncream and how they affect our health.

There are two main types of sunscreens: Chemical sunscreens absorb ultraviolet radiation like a sponge, while mineral sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide reflect it back from the surface of the skin like a mirror. They deflect the sun's rays. Most of the ones on the supermarket shelves are chemical sunscreens. They withstand powerful UV radiation without losing their effectiveness. They also include ingredients that act as "penetration enhancers" to help the product adhere to the skin. As a result many sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body and can be measured in blood, breast milk and urine samples.

In Denmark, the Danish EPA reviewed the safety of active ingredients in chemical sunscreens and concluded that most lacked enough information to establish their safety.

One of the most worrisome ingredients is oxybenzone, which was recently found in 96% of the US population. This ingredient acts as a weak hormone and can affect a man’s sperm count and contribute to the development of painful endometriosis in women. Several other chemical filters in creams also appear to be endocrine disruptors.

A study in 2019 looked at 6 ingredients in common sunscreens and found that they were all found in blood plasma and had levels that were over the approved FDA requirement.

The EWG (Environmental working group) evaluated over 1,800 products for their guide on sunscreens and found that about three-quarters did not provide adequate sun protection or included ingredients linked to harm. You can read more at

There is also the damage chemicals found in chemical sunscreens can do to delicate coral and marine life. It is estimated that 25 per cent of the sunscreen ingredients we apply to our skin ends up in the water.

Armed with this knowledge I am now using zinc-oxide based sun creams (mineral) that I know are kinder for my body and better for the environment. Companies like Green People, Neals Yard and Jason all manufacture mineral formulations that I feel are better for my skin and overall health.

Tips for sunscreen use:

  • Look for mineral-based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

  • Higher SPF's may mislead consumers so check the ingredients first.

  • Some sunscreen sprays pose an inhalation risk and may not coat the skin enough to ensure proper protection.

  • Avoid oxybenzone, as the FDA proposes that additional testing data is needed due to the potential impacts on hormone levels, reproduction and development.


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