Organic sunscreen

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Where sun care is concerned, the demand for a truly organic sunscreen continues to rise. In response, there is an increasing number of organic sunscreen products becoming available, but there are vast areas for improvement.

More and more people are becoming aware of the fact that many of the cosmetics offered today contain harsh chemicals that are extremely harmful to the skin. Toxic synthetic ingredients introduced into personal care products have been proven to irritate the skin and cause problems like eczema. However, they are also increasingly directly connected to the increase of diseases like cancer, diabetes and asthma.

From clothing to skin care products, the use of natural and organic ingredients is becoming more appealing to consumers as they realise the benefits both to themselves and the planet. Increasingly, there is concern about what we are putting inside or onto our bodies.

Looking into organic sunscreen vs inorganic is a little more complicated than it is for such things as food items or their ingredients. There are 3 main types of UV filters used in sunscreens and they are generally classified as such:

  • Organic chemical compounds that absorb ultraviolet light eg. oxybenzone, a suspected photocarcinogen
  • Inorganic particles that reflect, scatter, and absorb UV light eg. titanium dioxide or zinc oxide
  • Organic particles that mostly absorb light in a similar way to the organic chemical compounds, but they contain multiple chromophores that reflect and scatter a fraction of light like the inorganic particles. Their behavior is therefore different in formulations to the above 2. eg. Bisoctrizole

As seen, the chemical compound filters are referred to as 'organic' but are not actually considered the healthiest option. So, how does one define in simplistic as possible terms, what is healthy and what is not, but more especially so where sunscreens are concerned, what is the difference between 'organic sunscreen' and a 'natural' one?

A sunscreen doesn't need to contain any unhealthy synthetic or chemical sun filters, yet unfortunately many do. Invariably, choosing an inorganic pure mineral sunscreen instead, like zinc oxide, to protect your skin is a far healthier option. Beyond that, if the sunscreen is bolstered with organic natural ingredients that nurture the skin at the same time as protecting it, you will have chosen the best possible organic sunscreen option.

There are many substances used in cosmetic or pharmaceutical products today that are created in laboratories and do not occur anywhere in nature. As such they are not considered 'natural' and equally so are not 'organic'.

Then there are mineral substances that occur naturally in nature, but are inorganic, such as Zinc Oxide. Organic substances are plant materials grown without the aid of any chemicals, herbicides, pesticides or any artificial substance whatsoever.

Us humans are actually an organic substance ourselves, working optimally when we process or break down substances that are either organic or natural and not any artificially made substances. However, some will say that with assistance from today's wonderfully polluted environment we are 'grown' with plenty chemical and 'artificial substance' whether we want it or not!

While out there looking for a healthy sunscreen option, you will find many manufacturers of "organic sunscreen" claiming to be organic but do not articulate, or substantiate, why. Quite often it is because they contain some organic ingredients, typically essential oils or plant extracts. However, although wonderful in themselves, these organic ingredients often collectively account for a very small percentage or component of the whole product.

A few examples of what some product labels contain are:

  • "enriched with certified organic herbs and pure plant proteins for optimum benefits"
  • "the nurturing compositions contain certified organic, biodynamically grown and wild-crafted plants and pure essential oils to fortify the skin."

Although wonderful that there are organic ingredients being used in the product, it can be a little misleading as to just how 'organic' the whole product actually is.

Further to this, products labeled 'natural' can be misleading for much the same reasons. In either case, 'organic' or 'natural' labels are just beginning to be legislated in a definitive way for whole products, and certification organizations are increasing. Legislation has been around for some time already for individual ingredients, but not the whole product. Thus, even if found in health shops or such, there is no guarantee that the product is wholly organic or natural. Indeed, they could even contain chemicals known to be carcinogenic or harmful to the environment.

Some of the more widely known ingredients to avoid if you would like to have as wholesome and healthy, or as natural and organic sunscreen as possible are:

  • Avobenzone (Parsol 1789)
  • Oxybenzone and benzophenone-3
  • Methoxycinnamate based eg Octyl Methoxycinnamate (Octinoxate); Cinoxate;
  • Parabens (synthetic preservatives have been linked to cancer)
  • Petrochemicals (see wikipedia)
  • PABA (4-Aminobenzoic acid)
  • Octocrylene
  • Mineral oils (choose vegetable carrier oils rather)

Toxic chemicals also increase the production of free radicals leading to deterioration and slowing down of the cell renewal process.

Environmental concerns

Many people enjoying traveling to the sunnier climates to enjoy the sun's benefits, find themselves confronted with the dilemma of whether or not to wear a sunscreen as they are worried about the potential damage some of the chemicals contained in sunscreens can do when they wash off into the environment. eg. swimmers or sailors in seas, lakes, or dams; or surfers and divers in the sea. An increasing number of research projects revealing links between dying coral reefs and toxins contained within sunscreens have fueled this concern.

One such research project published in 2008, indicated that non organic sunscreens can have a rapid effect on hard corals and cause bleaching by damaging the symbiotic zooxanthellae. Their results further suggested that sunscreens containing parabens, cinnamates, benzophenones, and camphor derivatives, can contribute to this hard-coral bleaching if released into natural systems.

They estimated between 16,000 and 25,000 tons of sunscreens would be used in tropical countries annually. According to their experiment, it was estimated that at least 25% of the amount of sunscreen applied is then washed off while swimming, accounting for a potential release of 4,000 - 6,000 tons/year in the reef areas.

According to these estimates, they stated their belief that up to 10% of the world's coral reefs would be threatened by sunscreen-induced coral bleaching. Because human use of tropical ecosystems and coral reef areas is progressively increasing, they predicted that the impact of non organic sunscreens on coral bleaching will grow considerably in the future on a global scale.

Ultimately they were encouraging further the utilization of UV filters that do not threaten the survival of these endangered tropical ecosystems.

Natural organic sunscreens are usually significantly more biodegradable. Many tour operators, holiday resorts, cruise lines, nature resorts, dive resorts, outdoor adventure operators and marine reserves actually go so far as to insist that holiday makers wear natural, biodegradable, organic sunscreen. However, once again, even though labeled as 'biodegradable', try to remember to make sure that the ingredients listed above are not contained within the biodegradable product's ingredients list.

Learning from the History of Sunscreen usage

Despite decades of sunscreen use globally, melanoma and other skin cancers are on the rise. Recent medical research has indicated that this is due more to the increased use of traditional sunscreens, with all their toxic chemicals, than to the depletion of the ozone layer.

Birth defects, lower sperm counts, and a plethora of other medical problems are also now being linked to some of these chemical ingredients still found in many sunscreens today. In addition to this, many sunscreens are unable to effectively block UVA rays, or only block the UVB rays. Both need to be addressed for a sunscreen to be effective.

So, beyond your sunscreen not containing potentially harmful chemicals, providing an effective block for both UVA and UVB, choosing an organic sunscreen that contains genuinely organic ingredients will further enhance the quality of your choice.

Choosing Organic Sunscreen

Where Food is concerned: Chemicals pollute the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. If you are inclined to eat processed foods made with artificial ingredients, their nutritional value has been stripped. Without any organic focus, many of the fruits and vegetables we eat will contain pesticides and herbicides. Additionally, the meat we eat will most likely contain hormones and antibiotics.

Where Cosmetics are concerned: Varying mixtures of synthetically produced chemicals are contained in our cosmetics today. The skin is the largest organ in your body and individual ingredients in the cosmetics will vary in their ability to penetrate it. Some will be absorbed in tiny amounts, while some reach the blood vessels and are transported around the body. Although any one product may contain very small amounts of some of these synthetic ingredients, it is the cumulative effect of applying various products regularly that is causing concern.

Natural ingredients on the other hand are actually supportive to the skin. They are bioactive, which means that they work with your skin, the same way your natural oils do because the chemicals found in plants are very similar to the chemicals found in your body.

The skin can therefore recognize and work with the natural ingredients and make use of them in its constant effort to rebuild, regenerate and rejuvenate itself. This is in great contrast to synthetic skincare ingredients, which have no use for the cells of our bodies and rather work in opposition to them.

Some cosmetic ingredients have been linked in the media with various health scares and these have led some people to choose organic as a safer alternative. Commonly, people suffering from sensitive skin or skin conditions like eczema or psorias, feedback reports where organic skin care products used are shown to work far better. This is predominantly because they contain either no synthetic chemicals at all, or very small amounts.

For babies and growing children, parents tend to be more discerning in their choice of organic, as developing bodies are far more susceptible to chemicals and more likely to develop allergic reactions.

When you start to add all these things up, your health can pay a high price. There are those that choose organic body products simply to continue with a lifestyle choice to eat organic food, and want to continue to support the positive benefits to the environment that their organic choices make.

However, choosing an organic sunscreen that is not only free of chemicals and artificially produced substances, but one that you could actually eat without harm, can only benefit you!

So, take time to assess what you choose and make it as organic and natural as possible.

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