The Wrong Sunscreen Could Be More of a Cancer Hazard than the Sun Itself

We’re not saying that you don’t need to protect yourself from the sun – we believe you should be sun savvy. But we do want to be sure that you are informed about why a natural sunscreen is so important.

So let’s start at the very beginning.

So what is the difference between sunscreen & sunblock?

Officially sunscreens use chemical “absorbers” and sunblocks use physical blockers to protect the skin from UV radiation and sunburns. (That’s why the instructions on the sunscreen bottles say to put it on 20 minutes before being exposed to the sun as it needs that time to sink in to your skin before its full SPF is realised.) Sunblocks use minerals that sit on the surface of the skin (usually zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) rather than chemicals that sink into the skin to protect one from the sun. Mineral sunblocks begin working right away on both UVA and UVB rays, so there’s no need to apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Natural sunscreens are always “sunblocks”.

What you need to know

The sun is said to cause cancer because it forms free radicals in the skin. Sunscreens and sunblocks may block that radiation, but in the process they also form free radicals, because all the energy from the sun has to go somewhere. The trick is to block more free radicals than the sun cream creates. Many sunscreens include natural antioxidants like Vitamin E or green tea to combat the formation of free radicals in the skin. Also all non-natural sunscreens contain a variety of synthetic chemicals that have been linked to cancer related issues; namely because of endocrine disruption.

So Please Avoid These Ingredients

You don’t have to destroy your skin with chemicals to avoid getting sunburnt. These are some of the main culprits that we urge you to please avoid using – be an ingredient detective and ensure you are not pasting your skin with these toxins.

  • Octinoxate  (Octyl Methoxycinnamate) – has estrogenic (gender bending) effects
  • Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3) – Associated with photo allergic reactions and hormone disrupting activities. Absorbs quickly through the skin.
  • Avobenzone (Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane) – sunlight breaks this down into harmful ingredients
  • Octocrylene – Produces free radicals when exposed to sunlight, damaging DNA and potentially causing cancer
  • Homosalate – Hormone disruptor; forms toxic metabolites; can enhance penetration of some toxic herbicides
  • Padimate O (Octyl Dimethyl Paba / Paba Ester) – a derivative of once popular PABA sunscreen, this releases free radicals, damaging DNA, has estrogenic activity and causes allergic reactions. When exposed to sunlight causes genetic mutation.
  • Ensulizole (Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid) – Produces free radicals when exposed to sunlight, damaging DNA and potentially causing cancer.
  • Mexoryl SX – This UVA absorbing sunscreen agent degrades as much as 40% when exposed to sunlight, as well as producing damaging reactive oxygen species.
  • Octyl Salicyclate – penetration enhancer that alters skin structure, allowing other chemicals to penetrate deeper into the skin, increasing the amounts of other chemicals that reach the bloodstream
  • Benzophenone (Sulisobenzone) – Can cause skin and eye irritation. Does not penetrate the skin to a large degree, but enhances the ability of other chemicals to penetrate.

There are also other benefits to using natural sunscreen:

  • Skin health – with no mineral oils or petroleum-based ingredients, it won’t clog up your pores. Lets your skin breathe while keeping it protected.
  • Hormonal health  – no endocrine disruptors means they won’t cause hormone imbalances (which can lead to reproductive cancers).
  • Allergy-safe a natural formula will be much kinder to sensitive, allergy-prone skin.
  • Beauty benefits – won’t cause breakouts and blemishes; so you can enjoy smooth and beautiful summer skin.
  • Easy on the nose – botanical ingredients create a pleasant natural smell, with no harsh synthetic perfumes.
  • Kind to the planet – no harsh toxins on your skin while you swim, also means no harsh toxins leaching into our precious oceans.

So what about the safety of mineral sunblocks like the ones we sell?

There is also a lot of confusion and sometimes concern about the safety of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide used in natural sun blocks. The reason why is that smaller sized pieces of the minerals protect one better from the UV rays of the sun and rub in more effectively. Many sunblocks therefore use “nano particles” of both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. But the problem comes in here as the smaller the particle, unfortunately, the more likely it is that it is absorbed into the skin’s cells, where it could cause unknown problems, which could be cancer. The nano particles may also be more hazardous to the environment and even if swallowed inadvertently while swimming.

So because of this you want to avoid “nano” particles of zinc or titanium dioxide in your sun block. It is ok if they are micronised – in fact they need to be in order to protect your skin at all and all this means is that the minerals have been ground up. Micronized minerals are not small enough to get through the cell walls and are nothing to worry about.

I am often asked which ingredient is better. So this is what I think… Titanium dioxide has been flagged as a newly labeled carcinogen but the results from the study in question only came about after inhaling titanium dioxide dust, which you’re not going to be exposed to when you’re just wearing sunscreen. That may be the reason some sunblocks choose not to use it, but I don’t think it’s a valid interpretation given the nature of the study done. Given the choice however, between zinc oxide and titanium dioxide; you may find it relevant to know that zinc oxide is an essential mineral even found in vitamins, while titanium dioxide is a heavy metal and likely toxic.  I always believe that it does make sense to choose the one for your skin that you could also ingest. Zinc oxide is also the only active sunscreen ingredient approved by the FDA for infants under six months, which is another strong fact in its favour.

Bottom line, if I had to choose, I would say that zinc oxide is a safer and thus better sunscreen ingredient – as long as it is not nano-coated (remember the bit above the size of the particles)  as it offers the best UVA protection of all current sunscreen chemicals. But I don’t necessarily believe that titanium dioxide is an unsafe alternatives in a product like a sunscreen.

We have 3 amazing ranges of sun blocks available:

1. Sunumbra: Only uses non-nano coated zinc oxide.

 “At first it seems like this product would leave you oily, but it sinks in fast, and the slight pigment means I don’t have to wear make up – maybe some powder. I am SO pleased and relieved to find such an effective natural sunscreen, packed with lovely nourishing plant extracts – even for my sensitive breakout-prone skin. Some find the smell a bit strange, but I like the chamomile in it, and the smell goes away fast in any case. I use this every single day and Im on my second tube. I recommend it to everyone.” – Lucky

2. All Good: use organic, plant-based ingredients in all their scientific formulations.

All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Spray: “This product is amazing! So easy to apply and very effective!” – Liv

3. Eli & you: mineral-based sunblock made with zinc oxide, with a powerful Sun Protection Factor of 40+ for long-lasting effects.

“Will buy again, and again, and again….and again! As a WOC I was apprehensive about using an SPF this high and not looking washed out. I was impressed by the slip the product had, which made it easy spread across my face. It is now added to my essential list items. Hope in time they will have one with iron oxides to mitigate residual colour. It is still better than everything else I tried thus far. Also a bigger family sized tube would be a wonderful addition to the range!” – Inge

Shop all earth-friendly, health-friendly sunblock ranges here.

  • Pingback:Everything You Need To Know To Avoid A Chemical Sunscreen Summer - Faithful to Nature Natural and Organic Blog
    Posted at 13:08h, 21 September Reply

    […] Read more about other factors to consider as well as zinc versus titanium dioxide before choosing the wrong sunscreen. […]

  • mapula
    Posted at 12:23h, 19 September Reply

    good day I am an African women with a light complexion, have bad brown spot on my face from the scars, I am not sure which sunblock or sunscreen to use especially on my face please help

    • Kerry Haarhoff
      Posted at 10:08h, 23 September Reply

      Hi Mapula, it’s always best to check with a dermatologist before treating any specific skin conditions.

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