How to Choose Sunscreen Products for the Family
BY: DR. TORY JACKSON
Did you know in Canada, if just one chemical in a cosmetic is natural or organic, the
product is legally allowed to be marketed as natural or organic? This is unsettling
when we search to find safe, stable and natural ingredients in body care products.
For sunscreen, there can be some major misconceptions with ingredient safety.
Ingredients that provide an SPF value are classified as either chemical or mineral-
Chemical sunscreen ingredients are broken down by sunlight. As chemical
sunscreens degrade, they create free radicals and can be absorbed through the skin.
These types of products require reapplication every few hours. Some of the
byproducts are absorbed, some are washed off which enters our water supply.
Common chemical sunscreen ingredients to avoid include oxybenzone, avobenzone,
octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Especially avoid oxybenzone, a
synthetic compound that penetrates the skin and can act as an hormone disruptor
and cause damage to DNA that may potentially increase cancer risk. Oxybenzone
also degrades coral reefs and leads to coral bleaching. One of the biggest
contributors to massive pollution in our oceans is sunscreen. In 2015, it was
estimated that 14,000 tons of sunscreen are ending up in the oceans, causing
irreparable damage to coral reefs.
Long sleeve sun-protective clothing is a great choice for protection and helps reduce
the amount of sunscreen used, reducing the negative impact on reefs and marine
The Best Rated Sunscreen Ingredients for Safety
Mineral sunscreens such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide work by reflecting the
sun’s harmful rays. Sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide score
well in the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) database ratings as they don’t
break down in the sun and provide strong sun protection with minimal health
concerns. Both nano and non-nano sizes of zinc or titanium are proven not to be
absorbed into skin. Zinc oxide is additionally used for healing rashes, acne and
reducing skin inflammation.
When applied, reflective sunscreens initially appear white on the skin. Continue to
rub over the skin to reduce whiteness. Tinted versions of facial sunscreens are also
available. Lotion versions are a better choice over sprays to ensure optimal
coverage, especially for children. Preventing early sunburns is the best way to
reduce risk for skin cancers later on in life.
What about the other ingredients in a sunscreen?
Aside from SPF ingredients, products can contain petrochemical ingredients and
synthesized palm oils. Ensure your sunscreen does not contain any chemical
sunscreens or ingredients such as parabens, PEG compounds, phthalates,
formaldehydes, ethoxylated ingredients, petrochemicals, triclosan, TEA/DEA, and
synthetic fragrances and colours.
Natural sunscreens may contain additional ingredients such as anti-oxidants,
botanical extracts or soothing agents for healing sun-damaged skin.
My favorite brands are Goddess Garden and The Green Beaver products (a Canadian
company!) Both sunscreen companies offer mineral-based SPF in a natural, safe
base. Each company first started by a couple, driven to find healthier options for
their family and the environment as an alternative to harsh chemical ingredients
used in cosmetic products. Green Beaver products are hypoallergenic, vegan, non-
greasy, non-silicone coated, non-whitening, water & sweat resistant to 40 min, and
The website for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is very helpful. Go to the
Skin Deep Cosmetics database to find more information on safe body products
ingredients. CertClean is an Canadian organization certifying products that have met
all the criteria for healthy, non-toxic ingredients. Check out their website for a list of