What's wrong with chemical sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreens are extremely important, but they can be harmful to your health and the health of ecosystems. If you're reading this article, chances are you care about both… There is a better alternative, and we're here to explain it! Let's start with the basics; there are two main types of sun protection; chemical and mineral (physical).


Sunscreen application



Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun's rays. A chemical sunscreen will contain one or more of the following active ingredients, oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate – more on these later!

Mineral sunscreens work more like a mirror. They reflect the sun's rays and contain titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or a mixture of both as their active ingredients. These sunscreens are perfect for anyone with sensitive skin, but they can be a little harder to find.


Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen


So, which should you use? If you've done any research into chemical sunscreens, then you might have been surprised by the damaging effects of their active ingredients. At FourState, we always aim to promote products and a lifestyle that is 'Good for you and good for our planet', and many chemical sunscreens are the exact opposite. Let's start with the 'you'.

A quick google of the active ingredients found in chemical sunscreens will reveal that many of them are known to be carcinogenic, hormone disruptors or just plain toxic… We can't help but see the irony in applying carcinogenic sunscreens to help us avoid cancer! The primary and sole purpose of taking the time out of our day to put sunscreen on is to protect our health, so it feels strange that we substitute one problem for another.


Sunscreen bottle on a beach


Let's move from the "you" and focus on the "planet". Unsurprisingly, the same chemicals that are harmful to us are detrimental to our marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are known coral killers, causing bleaching, DNA alterations and hormone disruptions.

The concentrations required to damage reefs can be as low as a single drop in an Olympic sized swimming pool, and with millions of people visiting reefs all over the world, it's no exaggeration to say that we're wiping out our reefs. Hawaii and Key West, Florida have banned the use of any sunscreen that contains oxybenzone and octinoxate in a bid to protect their corals (if you're interested in learning more about corals, check out our What really is coral blog).


Heart reef GBR


Mineral sunscreens are much better, but not all are created equal. When buying a mineral sunscreen, the crucial thing to look for is whether the sunscreen contains nano-particles. As you'll remember, mineral sunscreens act as mirrors, reflecting away the sun's rays. This means they need to sit on top of or very close to the surface of our skin, unlike chemical sunscreens which are fully absorbed.

If you've ever watched a game of cricket, you might have seen players with white cream on their nose and under their eyes. This is a mineral sunscreen, and the active ingredient is non-nano Zinc oxide. This is an incredibly effective sun protector, that is far safer for both us and marine life, but one potential drawback remains: it cannot be absorbed and so remains visible.



To solve this, nano-particles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide were created for mineral sunscreens, which can be absorbed by our skin, preventing the white cast. This may solve the visibility issue but has created two new issues.

The first is that these particles are small enough to be absorbed and enter the bloodstream, potentially allowing them to build up inside us much like the chemicals we are trying to replace. The second is that nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide particles can be ingested by corals and fish making them equally as bad as chemicals for our marine ecosystems, so we're back to square one!


Coral reef Snorkelling


So, what is the solution? After reading through the research available, FourState truly believes that non-nano zinc oxide is by far the best active ingredient to use that is 'Good for you and good for our planet'.

It is broad-spectrum, reflecting both UVB (the cause of burning and skin cancer) and UVA (the cause of ageing and wrinkles) and is entirely reef safe. It may leave a slight white cast on our skin, but when mixed with the right oils and butters to emulsify it, the effect is minimal.

This is why we have chosen to stock Shade; it is a non-nano Zinc oxide sunscreen that contains only four all-natural and organic ingredients — Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, Beeswax and Zinc Oxide - and that is all. What's more, it is also 100% plastic-free!


Shade Mineral Sunscreen 

Natural Mineral Sunscreen - Shade

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published