With the recent emphasis placed on switching to beauty products that use cleaner, more natural ingredients, it makes sense that the growing trend would make its way to sun care. Adding further urgency to the need for finding the best natural sunscreens is the news that many common ingredients found in sunscreen are destroying the ocean's coral reefs.
Why are chemical sunscreens bad for the environment?
According to the Ocean Conservancy, studies show that chemical-based sunscreens are particularly damaging to coral reef ecosystems (and by extension, marine life). While there are other contributors to coral reef degradation, such as pollution and climate change, certain chemicals found in sunscreen products are major offenders that are easy to avoid.
Two of the worst ingredients in chemical sunscreens are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which were recently banned in Hawaii. These ingredients have been shown to be damaging if you apply your SPF and then go into the ocean. They also impact coral reefs even if you avoid swimming since the sunscreen gets washed down the drain into sewage systems when you shower.
Are natural sunscreens safer for sensitive skin?
Since the list of chemicals to avoid is admittedly long, it's easier to highlight the safer option — mineral (also known as physical) sunscreens. Though no sunscreen is really "natural," per se, the two ingredients found in mineral sunscreens that have been approved for safe use are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
Another common benefit of switching to a mineral sunscreen is that they're recommended for people with sensitive skin (you'll notice titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in baby-safe SPF products). The reason mineral sunscreen is more suitable for sensitive skin types is because it sits on top of the skin, acting like a shield to deflect harmful UV rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, block UV rays by being absorbed into the skin, which can cause reactions. Plus, many of the chemical ingredients have been shown to have potential health risks, like hormone disruption, too.