Lifestyle Wellness

Your Go-To Sunscreen Might Be Seriously Harming You

Here's what you should use instead.

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Sunscreens! They’re a tricky biz. Mineral vs. chemical; SPF 15 vs. SPF 50; lotions vs. sprays. It’s up to you, but we’re definitely sure first and foremost that no matter the format, you should be using one. But as we learn more about the ingredients in sunscreens, we’re beginning to see their potential harm not only to us, but also to the environment around us. In fact, news broke last week that Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale of sunscreens that use chemicals toxic to coral reef and other marine life. (It’s a really, really big deal!)

In fact, did you know that traditional sun protection ingredients—think oxybenzone and octinoxate—have been known to cause deformities in baby coral? (Yikes!) If these commonly used ingredients can wreak havoc on the marine ecosystem, just think of the harm they can bring to your body.

We asked Tara Foley—natural skincare expert, and founder and CEO of the epic clean beauty mecca, Follain—to provide some clean SPF advice, and potential implications about using traditional SPF.

For starters, look for better-for-you products that use physical blockers, instead of chemical, such as zinc oxide. Why should you avoid these chemical ingredients? “Chemical sunscreens like [oxybenzone and octinoxate] absorb UV rays, as opposed to mineral/physical sunscreens like zinc, (in Follain sunscreens) which sit on top of your skin and physically block the UV rays from getting in, which is better for skin aging, too,” says Foley. “Chemical sunscreens are built to penetrate—the skin, the coral reefs, really any bio matter—and they are linked to serious health issues, including reproductive and developmental toxicity, thyroid issues, and endocrine disruption.”

Okay, not good! But sunscreen and labels can be tricky. But they don’t have to be; check your labels at home, and avoid the below ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC)
  • Homosalate
  • Octisalate

Also, Foley reminds us that these chemicals aren’t just in sunscreens: “They can also be found in lipsticks, hair care products, and nail polishes, and aren’t good in any of your products. So always read the label!”

And when in doubt, Foley recommends to opt for products that include physical blockers, like zinc oxide, especially because it’s safe and effective for both UVA and UVB. For those traveling to Hawaii (lucky!), or just outside the house, the Environmental Working Group has named the below sunscreens as reef-safe. And safe sunscreen doesn’t have to cost an arm and leg, there are a few cost-conscious options below, too.

Mineral Sunscreen Unscented SPF 30, Suntegrity, $25

This one provides superior protection, glides on easily and absorbs quickly, and also includes bonus super-antioxidants in the formula, like green tea, pomegranate, and soothing aloe and cucumber.

Surf Mud Body Oil, Eir, $35

This oil is perfect for applying right before heading out the door in the a.m.—it’ll provide SPF 15 protection, and leave a glowing, hydrated look. Also, sweet almond oil and coconut oil give off a subtle, summer-vibes scent.

Kids Sunscreen SPF 30, All Good, $16

It’s labelled as ‘kids’ but it’s great for all ages. The organic coconut oil makes the formula slide right on, while the zinc oxide protects for hours on end.

Face Protect Stick Sunscreen, Beautycounter, $18

Don’t leave your face out of the goodness, too. This solid stick formula (TSA-approved) is perfect for on-the-go (bonus points for the small, handy pocket size), and glides on like a dream with the organic coconut and acai formula.

Slather away, and be safe out there in the sunshine.

And keep summer-ing:

All the Beauty Products To Use On Your Next Getaway Oops, You Got Sunburnt—Here’s What to Do Now The 9 Best Sunscreens to Slather on This Summer

Kristin Limoges


Kristin can usually be found face, hair, and body masking simultaneously, while thinking-up clever DIYs for her small-space Chinatown apartment. She’s always on the search for the greatest and most life-changing beauty and wellness hacks (hello nootropics and adaptogens) and is happy to report she loves dogs and cats equally.