A version of this article originally appeared in Village Living Magazine, where Kate regularly contributes articles about health, wellness and holistic living.

Is Your Sunscreen Doing You More Harm Than Good?

Did you know your skin laid flat takes up almost 20 square feet and makes up about 15% of your body weight? That’s a lot of skin! It’s your largest organ so it’s no surprise that whatever you put on your skin is quickly absorbed into your body.

Toxins in creams and lotions enter our blood stream more quickly than if we ate them!

It’s a good thing many people are becoming aware of the things they put on their bodies. Sunscreen, a summer staple, deserves a closer look. We generously slather this sun protective cream all over ourselves, infants and children on hot summer days. It’s important to consider what’s actually in our sunscreen and whether it’s doing us more harm than good.

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge the therapeutic benefits of regular sun exposure. Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun’s rays without a sunscreen filter. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium from our food in the digestive system. It also promotes proper cell growth and regeneration, neuromuscular and immune function, and is vital for the reduction of inflammation. Plus vitamin D is linked to boosting positive mood and increasing happiness.

For these reasons, it is important to expose large parts of your body like your legs, torso or chest to the sun regularly. Be sure to do this during the early morning or late in the afternoon. Remember to practice safe sun habits and avoid getting a sunburn by staying out of the sun during the hottest time of day, wearing a hat, enjoying time in the shade and of course, using sunscreen.

The average drugstore sunscreen uses a combination of two to six of these toxic chemicals: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

According to the Environmental Working Group, these toxins mimic hormones in the body and disrupt the endocrine system, leading to hormone imbalances; as well as, allergies, rashes and skin sensitivities.

Based on independent studies, some experts caution the unintentional exposure and toxicity of active ingredients in sunscreen erode the benefits (Krause 2012, Schlumpf 2010). This is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers as these toxins have been found in the fetus of expecting mothers and in breastmilk. While some experts suggest that more sensitive testing is needed, there is a natural and effective alternative.

Chemical-free sunscreen is made with zinc oxide or titanium oxide. And unlike commercial sunscreens that soak into the skin, the protective compounds in natural sunscreens sit on the surface of the skin and provide protection that way. For this reason, reapplying regularly, especially if you are swimming or sweating, is important. A small price to pay to avoid toxins.

Things to look for when selecting a natural sunscreen:

  • Read the ingredient label to ensure that it does not contain any of the above mentioned toxins.
  • Natural protection should be provided by zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • SPF can be deceiving. Choose a mid-range SPF 20-30 and apply regularly and liberally.
  • Plastic packaging may cause chemicals to leach into the lotion so opt for non-plastic alternatives, if possible.

Some of my favourite tried and tested brands:

Dare to be Bare, 90ml, $17.99

All-natural sunscreen, handmade by Kate (that’s me!), and available in reusable glass or aluminum bottles.

Green Beaver, 90ml, $21.99

Certified organic sunscreen with several options including a handy spray.

Badger, 87ml, $15.99

Zinc oxide and organic plant oils provide sun protection and moisturizing nourishment.

Goddess Garden Organics, 105ml, $12.99

Combination sunscreen using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide with several specialty options.