The weather is heating up and we are all heading outdoors to spend some time in the sun. However, with the skin cancer rate so high in Australia, we definitely need to be concerned with sun protection. Aside from covering up with sun safe clothing and seeking shade, we also need a reliable sunscreen to help keep us and our family safe in the sun. But which sunscreen should we choose for our family? With so much talk in the media of late about the harmful effects of some trusted sunscreen brands, along with claims that certain products aren’t protecting people from the sun at all, it is understandable that so many of us are confused as to which sunscreen is the best and safest choice for our family.

Now I am not here to scare you away from any particular sunscreen, but what I want to do is provide you with some information that will hopefully clear away the confusion so that you can confidently choose a sunscreen for your family.

What is UVA and UVB?

What is the difference between UVA and UVB?  UVB rays are those that cause the reddening the skin associated with sunburn, and are the main causes of non-melanoma skin cancers. While UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, resulting in harmful free radicals and are linked with the risk of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. Unlike UVB rays which are dominant in the middle of the day, UVA rays are present during all day light hours and at all times of the year. It is therefore extremely important for a sunscreen to adequately protect against both UVA and UVB to be effective.

Chemical ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone work by absorbing and stabilising UVA rays. However, these chemicals also come with some concerning health effects which I will explore in detail below.

Zinc oxide on the other hand, is a natural occurring mineral that does a wonderful job of protecting against both UVB and UVA rays by acting as a barrier against the sun, and it is safe for your body.

Chemicals found in most Sunscreens

There are a whole host of chemicals found in sunscreens, and much of these chemicals have been found to be toxic to the human body. Common chemicals found in sunscreens, such as oxybenzone, methoxycinnamate and PABA, are added for their filtering action against the suns UV rays. However, studies have found that these UV filtering chemicals are oestrogenic, acting as hormone disruptors that are linked to oestrogen dependent diseases such as endometriosis. While exposure to the toxic chemicals found in most sunscreens is minimal, when you combine it with the host of other chemicals we are exposed to on any given day, the toxic load on our bodies begins to add up big time.

On top of the UV filtering chemicals added to many sunscreens, there is also a whole list of preservatives and fragrances in many sunscreens, which bring with them a higher risk of allergic reactions. Parabens and phthalates, which are often used as preservatives in sunscreens and other cosmetic products, are also linked to infertility, breast cancer, abnormal development of the testes, and obesity.

Steer Clear of Sunscreen with Vitamin A

A small percentage of sunscreens contain retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, which has been found to speed up the development of skin damage and skin tumours when exposed to sunlight. This is the exact effect we are trying to avoid when applying sunscreen, so I would be staying away from anything containing this ingredient.

High SPF ratings give a false sense of security

Did you know that SPF 50 sunscreens only provide 1.3% additional sun protection compared to SPF 30 sunscreens? This is concerning when public perception believe it provides double the sun protection. Studies have shown that high SPF products cause significant changes in sun behaviour, as people are more likely to spend longer in the sun and neglect other sun safety measures, like wearing sun-protective clothing and seeking shade. High SPF claims can also lead people to apply less sunscreen to their bodies.

Chemical Sunscreens Effect on the Environment

The chemical oxybenzone found in most chemical sunscreens poses a significant threat to our coral reefs. Did you know between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off beach-goers into coral reef environments annually. A study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology showed oxybenzone to be a contributing factor to the death of coral reefs through induced coral bleaching, damage to coral DNA and its action as an endocrine distributor.

Alternatively, zinc oxide, which is the active ingredient in mineral sunscreens, has not been found to harm our coral.

Zinc Oxide vs Titanium Dioxide Sunscreen

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both minerals that protect against the sun. Zinc oxide is the preferred mineral by the EWG for sun protection as it has been shown to protect more effectively against UVA rays compared to titanium dioxide.

There are also some safety concerns surrounding titanium dioxide. Along with use in cosmetic products like sunscreen, this mineral is also a common additive in food products like lollies and biscuits. A recent study by the French Institute for Agricultural Research has found that chronic ORAL exposure to titanium dioxide can lead to non-malignant stage cancer.

So, with all this information in mind, here are my top sunscreen picks and why they are a safe choice for you and your family.

1. Little Urchin SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen 

This product is Australian owned and manufactured and is an all natural sunscreen with high zinc oxide protection. It also has the added benefits of organic green tea, cucumber and rose hip, giving the sunscreen antioxidant, moisturising and soothing qualities. I love this product because it is also reef safe, eco friendly and water-resistant.

2. Wotnot SPF 30 Sunscreen

This sunscreen has another great ingredients list, free from harmful chemicals and it includes shea butter for added moisturising benefits. This sunscreen is also water-resistant.

3. Eco Tan SPF 30 Sunscreen

This is a natural zinc oxide formula with a lovely coconut fragrance. However, be mindful of fragranced products on sensitive skin. Again, this is a great one for the beach as it is also water-resistant.

You can find all these sunscreens at Hello Charlie, a website for family eco products.


Casey Morgan-kellow
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