The Organic Esthetician Blog

Stop Using Chemical Sunscreen! - SPF Love, Hate, & The Things Everyone Should Know


Let me start by saying, I hate sunscreen.  Its' chalky gooeyness gets stuck everywhere, mixing with your sweat to add extra funky film to your whole body. When I hike, I am followed by a harem of insects drawn to my zinc coating.  Then when showering it off, it takes some deep exfoliation to remove.  But I'm fair, usually, the fairest of them all (haha).  But really, my see-through pastiness prevented me from wearing shorts throughout my extremely self-concious adolescent years and I'm always quite blinding at the beach or pool.  Now that I've been living in LA for some time, I'm starting to freckle, hard core.  I will inevitably be tan in the not so distant future. And not a even golden bronze. No, it'll be a spotty patchy mess of densely packed freckles, so large in number, that they begin to touch, morphing into one giant monster freckle!  It's true.  It's happened to my whole family.  

I sometimes dream of running away from LA to somewhere dark and gloomy, like Seattle or Portland, where the sun is perpetually hidden behind rain clouds. Or slightly less dreary, to Milwaukee (possibly my favorite place on earth), where half the year I can cover myself in parkas and faux fur lined hoods and my skin will slowly return to the snow white color it once was.  Only in dreams.  So until that day comes, I slather on the SPF and wear some pretty ridiculous hats and sunglasses.

Since there's no way around it, unless pigmentation and cancer is your thing, lets talk about sunscreen.

Chemical sunscreens are Endocrine Disruptors

Chemical SPFs change the way your body reacts to sunlight; as opposed to physical SPFs, which act as a shield, reflecting rays off the skin. Chemical sunscreen ingredients such as Oxybenzone, Octinoxate and Homosalate are commonly used UV filters; all of which have extremely high toxicity levels and are known endocrine disruptors.  This means these chemicals interfere with the production of hormones in your body. (A more familiar endocrine disruptor is Paraben.)  They are specifically known to disrupt estrogen, androgen and progesterone. They affect the reproductive system. Studies show they alter sperm production and behavior in animals. Other actives, such as Octisalate and Octocrylene, merely cause topical reactions irritating the skin.  The lessor of two evils I guess. This is widely known information, yet, no one is stopping these chemicals from being the most popular active ingredients in sunscreens on the market.  Way to go Neutrogena!

 Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Tough Sunscreen Broad Spectrum 100, their two pack is Amazon's #1 Best Seller

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Tough Sunscreen Broad Spectrum 100, their two pack is Amazon's #1 Best Seller

UVA vs. UVB, Aging vs. Burning

UVA or Ultra Violet A Rays are the longest and most prevelent type of UV rays, with radiation wavelengths reaching 400-320 nanometers. They penetrate deep into the dermis causing premature aging in the skin. These rays account for 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth's surface,  i.e. put on sunscreen even if it's not sunny! Also, (scary fact) these long rays penetrate glass so be mindful even when indoors.

UVB or Ultra Violet B Rays, with a wavelength reaching 320-290 nanometers, are shorter rays.  It's important to note, the shorter the wavelength the higher the intensity of radiation.  These intense UVB rays are the culprit behind sunburns as they damage epidermal cells (they also damage the eye causing cataracts and conjunctivitis).  They are most intense from 10AM to 4pm, so I get up and hike early or wait till late afternoon for all my outdoor activities. You might benefit from the same.  

SPF ratings do not increase exponentially

Shouldn't SPF 100 be that much more effective than SPF 30? Sorry, it's totally not.  SPF, or the Sunscreen Protection Factor, is the measurement of the fraction of sunburn producing rays that reach your skin.  This non linear scale means that SPF 15 is 93% effective, SPF 30 is 97% effective and SPF 50 is 98% effective at blocking UVB rays.  In the case of physical blocks, there really isn't anything higher than SPF 30 which, as shown, is quite sufficient. As a general rule, any SPF higher than 30 will always have a chemical active.  Make a habit of, at least, checking the Active Ingredients listed on the back of your products.

Beauty Collection's Protect Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Beauty Collection's Protect Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Zinc &Titanium Nanoparticles + Spray SPF

Zinc and Titanium Oxides are powdered minerals that sit on the surface of the skin, scattering, reflecting and absorbing UVA and UVB rays.  Both of these ingredients are considered to be nonirritating, nonallergenic, noncomedogenic and are THE alternative to chemical "filters," the active ingredients in sunscreens.  I'm sure you're all familiar with them.  However, both of these have been converted to nanoparticles, creating sunscreens that are not chalky white - since the nano-zinc and nano-titanium does not scatter light.  Sounds awesome, except that these nanoparticles are readily absorbed through the skin and straight into the bloodstream, collecting and occumulating in and on various organs. Imagine inhaling nanoparticles, or any particles for that matter, from one of those spray-on sunscreens.  EW! This article on nanoparticles, explains in depth the disastrous outcome of the inhalation of not very harmful materials when inhaled in nanoparticle form. These particles move from the lungs, to the blood, then to the brain and even to a fetus. So when it comes to nano, skip it. And while you're at it, stop being lazy and ditch the spay too.  It kills me that the majority of spray sunscreen use is on children.  In 2014, even Consumer Reports suggested to stop using these sprays, and yet they're in almost every family home across the country.   

So now that you know, go into the cupboard and throw out the Neutragena (Avobenzone, homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone), CeraVe (Homosale, Meradimate, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Zinc Oxcide), Banana Boat (Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone, Octisalate), Eucerine (Ensulizole, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Titanium dioxide, Zinc Oxide) and the Aveeno (Avobenzone, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone). Do it. It'll feel good. Ready to replace them?  Go to The List and check out my favorite chemical free sunscreens, they're the least chalky and most effective.  

Talk to you soon,