Is Sunscreen Dangerous? The Truth About Sunscreens and Sunblocks...Plus a DIY Recipe
This article will help you know which chemicals are completely unsafe in sunscreens. You'll find out how to choose a good sunscreen that contains safe ingredients. I also share my recipe for diy sunscreen, plus some special tips for babies and young children’s sunscreen.
Sunscreens/sunblocks--These are a pretty controversial topic when comes to knowing which ones are "good," and which ones to completely avoid based on their ingredients. There are a lot of scare tactics put out there by the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry that tell us we MUST use a very high sun protection factor and that their product is the best. Here’s the research based truth.
Now, I'll be honest---I am NOT a fan of any kind of commercial skincare product in general, and that's because the majority of them contain chemicals that are damaging to a great variety of your body parts, including your brain, endocrine system, and liver, plus many are carcinogenic.
I actually make my own sunscreen (recipe below). However, since many people just aren't into the DIY thing like I am, it's important to know which products are safe to use--especially if you have children. Also, homemade sunscreens are not tested for effectiveness or SPF, as that requires a lab. I’ll discuss this more below.
One of the co-founders of Block Island Organics recently asked me to take a look at their sunscreen, as it contains natural and organic ingredients. I was really excited to take a look and try it out! I was given a bottle in exchange for an honest review, and I figured, “What the heck? I’ve been meaning to research the sunscreen topic for awhile. This was the perfect opportunity. All the information in this article is researched, and all opinions are solely my own.
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links sprinkled throughout this post. If you happen to click through and make any kind of purchase, I may earn a very small commission at no extra cost to you.
NOTE: This article has been edited from its original publication date.
Are the Chemicals in Sunscreen Safe? What You Need to Know About Your Sunscreen
When I opened my package containing the sunscreen from Block Organics, I was pretty excited! Finally! A natural and organic sunscreen product!
As I examined the ingredients list, my excitement changed to disappointment ("There are chemicals in this!" I told my husband.)
LUCKILY---I decided to do the research--Here's what I (happily) found out!
As I go through these ingredients, I'll keep the plant-based and mineral based ones simple because they are all GREAT. That's just easier, right?
The ACTIVE ingredient is Zinc Oxide at 22.0%. Zinc Oxide is a naturally occurring mineral that provides physical protection to your skin. This is actually the very best option we all have when it comes to sunscreen----BESIDES just wearing long sleeves, hats, and glasses, that is.
Zinc Oxide provides a physical barrier that blocks the sun....UNLESS it has been broken down into such small molecules that it can enter your skin. This is called a "nano-zinc oxide." I was pleased to find that the Zinc Oxide in Block Island Sunscreen is a "non" nano formula, which means the molecules are large enough not to enter your body through your skin. That's a GOOD thing!
Inactive Ingredients in Block Island Sunscreen:
These are always the ingredients where I get extra suspicious. Why are they there? Do they really need to be? And like most commercial skin care products, Block Island's Suncare lotion has (in my opinion) a LOT of inactive ingredients. To be honest, I'm not sure they are all necessary. And until I did some sleuthing, I wasn't sure they were all o.k. either. At any rate, here is a rundown of these ingredients:
Aloe Vera Gel is the first ingredient:
Aloe Vera Gel is a natural plant gel that is well-known to protect the skin, soothe it, and help keep it moisturized. It's what I used to put on my own kids' sunburns when they were young, and it works. ALSO---Block Island uses organic Aloe Vera Gel. GOOD.
Water is the next ingredient...GOOD.
Organic Shea Butter is the third inactive ingredient: GOOD.
Organic Camellia sinensis leaf (green tea) is next. GOOD.
Organic Coconut Oil and Eucalyptus Oil follow. Both of these are GOOD.
It turns out that gluconolacctone is actually suspected of possibly being somewhat toxic, but that not enough is known about it. According to this article, gluconolacctone is great for your skin as an inactive ingredient and may even be anti-aging.
It has humectant properties, which means it helps pull moisture out of the air and into your skin, plus it may help with exfoliation, since it is a polyhydroxy acid. I'm rating this ingredient "OK," because even though it may be somewhat suspect, it's great for wrinkles and is a naturally occurring substance.
Glycerin is a natural by-product of the saponification of oils and lye (soap maker that I am), so I thought this was a good thing...UNTIL I found out that most Glycerin found in commercial products are by-products of bio-diesel waste!!!! Just....YUCK!
However, the Glycerin found in Block Island's Sunscreen is ORGANIC, which means it does not come from waste products. Therefore, it must come from an organic vegetable source. I decided it's GOOD.
Lecithin: GOOD---plus, it's organic.
Octyl Palmitate is up next.
It's actually derived from coconut palms. It's fine, but using this ingredient may hurt the environment, according to Natural News. So, this one is just "OK." Maybe even verging on BAD---not for your skin per se, but for the environment.
Organic Jojoba Seed Oil is up next: GOOD.
Next up is Sodium Benzoate.
Turns out, Sodium Benzoate is NOT GOOD.
"This killer is flying under consumer radar with its user friendly tag line, 'as a preservative.' This silent cell choker has found its way into thousands of products, even foods that are labeled as all natural." (Source)
According to NaturalNews.com, Sodium Benzoate is "ok" with the FDA because it is found in relatively low quantities in products. However, it should not be combined with any kind of Vitamin C or E.
Well, products containing citric acid, forms of Vitamin C or E are quite common. Evidently, Vitamin C or E, when combined with Sodium Benzoate causes benzene to be formed, which may cause cancer. Hmmm..... Worth the risk? I say: "You decide."
And here's a mouthful: Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate.... Oh. My. Goodness. I had to laugh at that mouthful!
For sure...this MUST be bad, right? I mean, you can't even say that long chemical name!
Basically, what I found is that there is not much known about this lab-contrived substance. It's processed from a "natural" sugar compound derived from renewable feedstock sources. It's a surfactant (which causes foaming).
But I'll just say, in my opinion, it's OK because, although there is "not enough known about it," it doesn't appear to cause problems, such as SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) which is TERRIBLY bad for you. This is a safer substitute for the commonly found SLS.
The final three ingredients are also just fine: Xantham Gum, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), and organic Zemea propanediol.
What's Zemea propanediol?
Turns out, it's made in a lab, by DuPont, but is made from natural ingredients. Hence, it can be termed, "organic." I'll be honest. I'm NOT a fan of anything made by any large chemical company in a lab. However, it's the last ingredient (which means it is least in content), it is a humectant, and the Environmental Working Group rates it low risk. So, my rating is "OK."
What Chemicals Should You Completely Avoid in Sunscreens?
Things to COMPLETELY avoid in your sunscreens and other cosmetics/lotions include:
retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A palmitate)
ANY type of "fragrance."
There are quite a few reasons to be sure these stay out of your products, and you should do some research on these. You'll be horrified, I promise! Maybe I'll write an article on these later-
Here's the bottom line about buying commercial products:
I really think people need to do what I just did....and take the time to read labels. That way, you can truly make an informed decision that's good for YOU.
Especially if you are using products on children or babies, my opinion is that you really owe it to them to do your due diligence. OR, just make your own products so you know what exactly is in them.
Now, I understand that's not always an option for most people. So, please turn to products you trust and have researched.
I have to say that Block Island's Sunscreen is one that I would choose to use, especially if being out in the sun for a long time.
I believe Block Island Organics has great intentions for our consumer health in mind, and they are doing their best to provide a product that is safe for us. They truly are trying to stay away from damaging chemicals, such as the Oxybenzones and other chemical sunscreens: like those found in those spray ons and many other products containing sunscreen.
I've tried out this sunscreen, and you really don't need to use very much. A little goes a very long way. It IS free of parabens (BAD), phthalates (BAD), and artificial fragrances (BAD). It's also made with a UVA/UVB blocker (zinc oxide) instead of the EXTREMELY dangerous oxybenzone, which is in most chemical sunscreens.
They also do not test on animals (something that is VERY important to me), and they use vegan formulas for the ingredients that are created in a lab. Also, it should be noted that Block Island Sunscreen made The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Best Beach and Sport Sunscreen for the third year in a row. To me, that helps it rate as a good sunscreen product.
How Does Block Island Sunscreen Work and Feel?
Well, I think it's GREAT! It goes on very smoothly, leaving a slight finish. The zinc oxide (white) part of this cream blends well with the other ingredients, making it fairly translucent on your skin, but you do need to rub it in well. You DO NOT need very much of this sunscreen! Truly, a very little goes a LONG way! It smells good, too!
As a parting statement: If you are not a DIY person (and I know a LOT of people who are just not interested or simply do not have the time to DIY), OR you want a trusted and safe commercial sunscreen, then Block Island Sunscreen is actually the best and safest sunscreen I have come across!
If you have children or care about what you put on your largest organ that soaks everything into your body (your skin), then this is a great sunscreen in which to invest.
I have to admit to being ready to be disappointed by this sunscreen, and it turns out, I'M NOT. This is a great sunscreen for use whether or not you are a do-it-yourselfer and you just want a healthy, more natural sunscreen.
A DIY Homemade Sunscreen Recipe
Many folks love to make their own products (raising hand). If that's you, here is a recipe you might want to try:
I honestly can NOT say what the SPF is, as it has not been tested (nor can any other DIY sunscreen voucher without the proper testing). What I can say is that I have used it, and it does help reduce sun exposure somewhat.
Is it as good as a commercial product with an SPF of 30 that has mostly natural and great ingredients? Probably not, when it comes to protection. But....for me, it gets the job done just fine.
Do you really need an SPF of 50? Or even 30? Well, I'm no doctor, but I think the sun, in moderate and responsible doses, is GREAT for us. We need the sun both physically and emotionally.
DIY Sunscreen Ingredients:
1/8 cup Beeswax
1/8 cup Shea Butter (spf 4-6)
1/4 cup Almond Oil
1/8 cup Raspberry Seed Oil --cold-pressed, organic (SPF 28-50, depending on the amount)
2 tablespoons Zinc Oxide (non-nano)
Directions for DIY Sunscreen:
1) Place the beeswax, shea butter, and almond oil in a double boiler. (I just use a pint wide mouth Mason jar for the oils, placed inside a pan filled with about an inch or 2 of cool water).
2) Heat the pan on a low or low-medium setting until the shea butter and wax melts completely.
3) Pour in your Raspberry Seed Oil and Your Almond Oil and stir WELL
4) Add your non-nano Zinc Oxide and stir, stir, stir until completely mixed
5) Add a little Lavender essential oil if you want a bit of scent.
6) Pour the mixture into a 4 ounce jar.
7) Let it set up until solid.
8) Use as needed!
NOTE: You can also add in some carrot seed oil. It's quite expensive, however, it has the highest potential natural SPF.
And if you want to find out about sunblock specific to babies and toddlers, take a look here. And here is another homemade sunscreen recipe you may enjoy, especially if you live in a very hot place. Finally, if you are into living plastic free (as we are doing are best to), you’ll love this article by Jessie at Tiny Yellow Bungalow (and she has a fabulous shop, too)!
Final Thoughts on Sunscreen, Chemicals, and DIY
I wonder...what did our ancestors do to protect their skin before all these chemicals were invented? And I also wonder---Was the rate of skin cancer higher then? Or is it a hoax? These are rhetorical questions, but I think I'd like to find out the answers one day.
In the meantime, I like to be as chemical-free as possible while still protecting my skin. If you have children, I hope you'll pay careful attention to the list of chemicals to completely avoid. Please.
People in our country are becoming sicker and sicker; fatter and fatter. Did you know the current generation is the first generation not expected to live as long as their elders? Do you ever wonder why? Perhaps one of the reasons is all the thousands of chemicals ok’d by the FDA that are illegal in other countries. Food for thought.
Also…what if you happen to get a sunburn?
Here are some article you may find interesting:
I hope this was helpful for you. What do you think of sunscreens? Leave your question or comment in the comments section!
And here are some other articles you may enjoy:
There's a lot more on the blog, too, so go browse around!
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or an aesthetician. I am an herbalist. In no manner, stated or implied, is any information on my website meant to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease or illness. Please be sure to seek advice from a medical professional for any health concerns.