Whether you’re heading off on holiday to somewhere exotic, or you’re staying in the UK with the unpredictable weather, it’s crucial to keep your skin protected. Living in a country that’s known for its cloud coverage and drizzle means we tend to forget the importance of staying skin safe, but even when we do remember, we’re often met with the dilemma that most sun protection products contain harsh chemicals that can have long-lasting, damaging effects on our skin. It might seem like your skin is in a lose-lose situation over summer, but there are ways to stay safe without compromising your principles.
First off, why is regular sunscreen villainized these days?
It’s worth stating from the outset that, while Ohana’s position is that we will only ever support sunscreen products that are free from oxybenzone (more on that later), it’s still important to iterate that any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen when you’re in the sun. There’s no benefit in snubbing regular sunscreen while in direct sunlight if you don’t have access to an alternative, as all this does is leave you burnt with damaged skin - definitely something to avoid at all costs. That said, planning ahead so that you always have access to oxybenzone-free sun protection is advisable.
The most common ingredient in almost all sunscreen products is oxybenzone, a chemical that helps protect against sun damage. Oxybenzone is used in plastic products to absorb ultraviolet light, and can also be found in cosmetics to prevent potential damage from sunlight exposure. Studies have linked oxybenzone to hormonal disruption and cell damage, and frequent use of sunscreen is now leading to more cases of contact dermatitis, so people are beginning to recognise that it’s bad news. Since sunscreen is a necessity when exposed to the sun though, it puts us all in a tricky spot.
What about the environment?
In using sunscreen with oxybenzone and other harsh chemicals, we could also be contributing to the ill health of the environment. Whether it’s a water resistant sunscreen or not, much of your sunscreen application can end up in the ocean when you go to the beach. According to the Ocean Foundation, for every 10,000 beach visitors who soak in the sea, around 4kg of mineral particles wash into the water every day. That might sound minuscule, but the minerals in question are known to catalyse the production of hydrogen peroxide (a bleaching agent) in a capacity that makes it harmful to marine organisms and coral reefs. On their website, the Ocean Foundation also says that phenoxyethanol, a common ingredient in sunscreen, was originally used as a mass fish anesthetic, so the more of it we allow to end up in the ocean, the darker the consequences could become.
If not oxybenzone, then what?
We need more disruptive sunscreen brands to develop all-round safer products that keep our skin safe in daily life, and already new products are beginning to emerge. Avoid oxybenzone and opt instead for zinc oxide-based products. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), zinc oxide is the safest ingredient that blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays, providing a much-needed natural barrier. It’s always worth seeking a sunscreen that is “non-nano” in size, as anything below 100 nanometers means particles can be absorbed by coral, so this is the only type of sunscreen to be considered coral reef-safe.
From my own experience, zinc oxide-based sunscreens are not always aesthetically pleasing or satisfying to apply - but then what sunscreen is, really? They tend to leave a thick coating on the skin, but as more people have tuned in to the need for safer sun protection, these products are getting better year-on-year. I apply a zinc-based sunscreen every day, and consider it to be the next most vital thing you can do for your skin after your regular skincare routine. I would recommend spending time finding one that works for you and the environment.
Can you avoid sunscreen altogether?
I’m a fan of making sure my skin is protected every day, and while I would always advise this, there are those who prefer to use sunscreen as a last resort, opting instead for high-coverage clothing like long sleeves and trousers, hats, and carrying items like umbrellas that can shield skin from damaging UV rays. If you are choosing to simply avoid the sun altogether, plan your day around the sunshine by going outdoors only in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky. This might work for you day-to-day, but again, I always recommend wearing a sunscreen product, especially when you’re in direct sunlight.
Action steps? Do a little research into the best zinc oxide-based sunscreen products, try a few out to find one you like, and apply your favourite every day, or at least when you are in direct sunlight. Being more diligent about your sunscreen application can do wonders for your skin, slow down skin ageing, and help the environment, so it’s an all-round great move.
Have you found a zinc oxide-based sunscreen that you would recommend? Share it with me over on Instagram.