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How to choose the best natural sunscreen for your skin

At Intentionally Natural, applying a natural broad-spectrum sunscreen is a non-negotiable part of our daily skincare and beauty routine. Especially being in NZ with our...
Lara Fountain
Frankie apothecary natural sun defense best sunscreen 2024 with Kawakawa

At Intentionally Natural, applying a natural broad-spectrum sunscreen is a non-negotiable part of our daily skincare and beauty routine. Especially being in NZ with our compromised Ozone that makes the UV rays extremely unforgiving and harsh on skin.

With so many options available, it can be challenging know what to look for when choosing the right sunscreen or sunblock product to your specific skin needs.

What is a Natural Sunscreen

Natural sunscreens, also known as mineral or physical sunscreens work by creating a physical barrier that blocks the skin from UVA and UVB rays. Unlike chemical sunscreens, these natural alternatives are often free of potentially harmful chemicals like parabens and phthalates.

Natural sunscreens are made with mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These natural active ingredients work by creating a protective shield over the surface of the skin and reflecting harmful UV rays off it. Essentially stopping UV rays from penetrating the skin surface which leads to skin issues and symptoms inflicted by sun damage.

Common Sun related skin issuse

  • Sunburn; thermal burning of the skin which can cause redding of the skin and it being hot and pain full to touch. In more severe cases blistering and pealing of the skin can happen which can result in deep tissue damage and make you more susceptible to future skin damage.

  • Freckles; flat circular spots on the skins surface which can be beige to dark brown in colour. Freckles are a result of the over production of the pigment melanin. When skin is exposed to UV it will produce excess melanin in an attempt to protect itself from sun damage. As a result leaving clusters of spot on the skin.

  • Melasma (or chloasma); are abnormal patch's or discoloration/darkening of the skin. Melasma often occurs on the forehead, cheeks, nose, chin, or upper lip. Melasma can appear as a result of both sun damage and as a result of hormonal shifts. Melasma can worsen with sun exposure so it's important to regularly apply a good natural SPF to combat this condition.

  • Age spots (sun spots or solar lentinges); age spot are flat brown spots that can range from usually being 0.2 - 2cm in diameter. These are cause for chronic UV exposure and are commonly found on the face, shoulder, neck, décolletage, arms, hands and legs. 

  • Actinic Keratoses (AKs); can manifest on the skin as red, brown, scaly patches. Usually affecting those with lighter skin tones and can developed into carcinoma (skin cancer) as a result of chronic UV exposure.

  • Malignant Melanoma; the least common but most serious form of skin cancer. Appearing as a dark brown to black mole with irregulate shades of black, blue, red or white and an uneven boarder.

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC); is the most common form of skin cancer though it's typically not life threatening. Commonly found on the head, and neck but it can in fact be found anywhere on the skin. Appearing as a pimple like spot or bump that is usually to pink in colour. It originates in the skins Basel layer and is cause by chronic exposure to mostly UVB rays.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma; the second most common form of skin cancer its really life threatening and highly curable if detected early. Usually occurring on the head, face, ears, or hands. Squamous cell carcinoma can be up to 2.4 cm in size and appear as red sore like skin patches that refuse to heal.

Women with freckles

Why Choose Natural Sunscreen

Recent studies show that about 70% of sunscreens on the market contain chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. These ingredients are known to pose potential health risks to adults and children alike and contribute to coral bleaching. If you want to protect you skin from skin damnge caused by the sun its best to choose natural ingredients that have no hidden nasties inside that can lead other health issuse.

Health benefits of natural sunscreen

The active ingredients in natural sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients are recognized by the FDA and EWG as being safe and effective. In contrast, many chemical sunscreens use ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream and have been linked to hormonal disruptions. Chemical sunscreen ingredients such as oxybenzone are believed to mimic and interfere with hormones and potentially cause endocrine disruption, which may lead to various health issues. 

Environmental Benefits

The benefits of natural sunscreens extend beyond personal health they’re better for the environment too. Scientists estimate that around 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in oceans every year. Many of these sunscreens contain harmful chemicals that contribute to the destruction of coral growth and marine life such as :

  • Oxybenzone
  •  Octinoxate
  • Benzophenone-1
  • Benzophenone-8
  • OD-PABA
  • 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
  • 3-Benzylidene camphor
  • Octocrylene

These ingredients all damage coral DNA and disrupt the corals reproductive cycles slowing growth, contributing to coral bleaching and damaging marine ecosystems as a whole. 

Reef-safe sunscreens, being those that are free from these harmful chemicals, are crucial for protecting marine environments. It's important to note that “Reef- safe” and “Reef friendly” are terms that are ungoverned so be sure to check the INCI label to be sure the ingredients re in fact 'Reef safe'.

If you're unsure how to navigate the INCI label you can find all the information you need in our comprehensive guide on understanding skincare ingredients .

When it comes to choosing a natural sunscreen, suncream or sunblock product that isn't going to harm the ocean or any other waterways make sure you choose one that is mineral based with non-nano Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide active ingredients. Non-nano unlike nano particles are larger so instead they fall rapidly and become part of the natural sediment of the sea floor. whereas nano particles can be ingested by marine life and detrimentally altering them on a cellar level.

Skin benefits of natural sunscreen

For individuals with sensitive skin, finding a suitable sunscreen can be challenging. Chemical sunscreens often absorb UV rays, creating heat that can irritate the skin leading to inflammation and aggravation skin issues such as rosacea, dermatitis and eczema. The chemicals themselves can also cause stinging or burning sensations upon application. In contrast, natural sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide offer a gentler solution. As these mineral ingredients sit on top of the skin and physically block UV rays, providing instant protection without the need to wait for absorption. This makes them ideal for people with delicate or easily irritated skin. Plus, because they are hypoallergenic, they are less likely to cause allergic reactions, making them a safer choice for everyone, including babies and those with nut or latex allergies.

Common chemical sunscreen ingredients to avoid

When selecting a sunscreen, it’s crucial to avoid certain harmful chemicals such as these well know culprits:

  • Oxybenzone: Linked to hormone disruption and coral bleaching.
  • Octinoxate: Another endocrine disruptor that harms marine life.
  • Avobenzone: Can degrade in the sun and lose effectiveness.
  • Retinyl Palmitate: A form of vitamin A that may become unstable and speed up skin damage when exposed to sunlight.
  • Mineral Oil: Can clog pores and cause breakouts.
  • Homosalate: May disrupt hormones and accumulate in the body over time.
  • PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid): Known to cause allergic reactions and skin irritation.
  • Fragrance: Often a mix of undisclosed chemicals that can trigger allergies and irritation.

Hidden Dangers in Inactive Ingredients

It's not just the active ingredients that matter—many harmful substances can hide in the inactive ingredients section of the label too. It's important to read the entire INCI label so you can be completely aware of what you're putting on your skin. For example, some sunscreens use preservatives or fragrance to mask the scent of other ingredients. These fragrances and preservatives commonly cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. By being diligent and checking both active and inactive ingredients, you can ensure you're choosing the safest option for your skin and health.

Frankie Apothecary Sun Defence SPF40 with awards

How to shop for natural sunscreen 

Mineral Sunscreen

Terms like "mineral," "physical," and "natural" are often used interchangeably when describing sunscreens that use minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients work by reflecting or physically blocking the sun's UV rays from penetrating your skin, providing effective protection without the need for chemical absorption.

Broad Spectrum

When choosing a sunscreen, it’s important to look for broad-spectrum protection. This means the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays can cause age spots and wrinkling, while UVB rays are responsible for sunburns. Broad-spectrum sunscreens help protect skin cells from both types of damage, reducing the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

Reef-Safe

"Reef-safe" sunscreens are wonderful because that are formulated without common chemicals that contribute to coral bleaching. Using reef-safe sunscreen is crucial for protecting coral reefs and all marine ecosystems, ensuring that your sun protection routine doesn't harm the environment. But don't just take a product at its word be sure to cheek that the ingredients stated in the ingredients (INCI) label are inface reef safe.

 

The best way to apply natural sunscreen

Applying natural sunscreen correctly is key to its effectiveness. Apply liberally not sparingly and be sure to do so at least 20 minutes before sun exposure, as this allows the sunscreen to form an effective barrier. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours, especially after swimming, sweating, or towel drying. Proper application ensures continuous protection throughout your time in the sun.

How much sunscreen you should apply to face and body infographic

Natural sunscreens offers a safer, healthier, and more eco-friendly alternative to traditional chemical sunscreens. By using mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, natural sunscreens provide effective protection against harmful UV rays without the risk of absorbing potentially harmful chemicals into the body. Additionally, natural sunscreens are reef-safe, making them a more environmentally conscious choice. When choosing a natural sunscreen, it's essential to look for broad-spectrum protection and avoid harmful ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate. By making the switch to natural sunscreen, you will not only protect your skin and health, but also the environment.

 

Shop NZ best award winning natural sunscreen for 2024:

Frankie natural Sun Defence Natural Sunscreen 120G

2024 beauty short list natural sunscreen winner Frankie Apothecary natural sun defense 

Vanessa Megan | Vitamin A+B+C Daily Face Cream +SPF15

 Vanessa Megan A+B+C Daily face cream + SPF 15

 

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About the author

Lara Fountain

Lara a certified organic skincare and cosmetic formulator shares natural, and effective beauty solutions, wellness insights, and recipes created to empower and nourish your glow naturally from the inside out.