Find out what is in your sunscreen, how it can be affecting your hormones and harming your coral reefs, plus healthy alternatives you can use instead.
Chemicals, sunscreen, coral reefs, pollution, natural, alternatives
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Chemicals in Sunscreen: Harming your hormones and your Coral Reefs (+ what you can use instead)

Chemicals in Sunscreen: Harming your hormones and your Coral Reefs (+ what you can use instead)

You’re in a bit of a pickle, you’re on your way to the beach and you really need some type of sun protection (because hey, burning is not fun – hello, skin cells in trauma!)
You’re feeling suspicious about conventional sunscreen and its ingredients but you’re also unsure whether this natural stuff is going to work. Arrgghh what to do?
There is nothing better than getting outside and enjoying the sunshine, so you quickly make a decision and decide to go with a natural sunscreen.

Synthetic sunscreens: what’s the issue?
There are 2 types of sunscreen – Those that contain mineral filters and those that contain non-mineral filters (and some that may contain both). The most common sunscreens on the market contain non-mineral filters.

These products typically include a combination of two to six of these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. With a handful of products combining zinc oxide with chemical filters. (1)

Non-mineral sunscreens penetrate the skin, are potentially disruptive to hormones, are allergenic, and can also release free radicals when they break down.

Mineral sunscreens are ones containing zinc, or titanium. These do not breakdown in sunlight, are not usually absorbed into the body, are not usually allergenic and are more effective at blocking UVA rays than non-minerals. (2)

The FDA sent out a warning to parents in 2011 to not use spray sunscreen on children due to the harmful effects it may have to the lungs when inhaled. (3)

It’s not the first time I have heard some sunscreens may be harmful to put on our skin or inhale. When you look at the ingredients and take time to investigate how they react inside your body it can be pretty eye opening. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) it’s best to avoid spray sunscreens as there is increased risk of inhalation which may cause internal damage. If you use a pump or spray sunscreen, lower your inhalation risk by applying it to your hands and then wiping it on your face. (4)

The main ingredients in sunscreen are list below:

(Information sourced from

UV filter with high toxicity concern:

Detected in nearly every American.
Found in mother’s milk.
1-to-9% skin penetration in lab studies.
Acts like estrogen in the body; alters sperm production in animals; associated with Endometriosis in women
Relatively high rates of skin allergy.

Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate)
Found in mothers’ milk; less than 1% skin penetration in human and laboratory studies.
Hormone-like activity; reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies.
Moderate rates of skin allergy.

UV filters with moderate toxicity concerns.

Found in mothers’ milk.
Skin penetration less than 1% in human and laboratory studies.
Disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone.
Toxic breakdown products.

Stabilizes avobenzone.
Skin penetration in lab studies.
Rarely reported skin allergy.

Found in mothers’ milk.
Skin penetration in lab studies.
Relatively high rates of skin allergy.
UV filters with lower toxicity concerns.

UV filter with low toxicity concern:

Titanium Dioxide
No finding of skin penetration.
No evidence of hormone disruption.
Inhalation concerns in powdered form.

Zinc Oxide
Excellent UVA protection
Less than 0.01% skin penetration in human volunteers
No evidence of hormone disruption
Inhalation concerns in powdered form.

Best UVA protection of chemical filters.
Very limited skin penetration.
No evidence of hormone disruption.
Relatively high rates of skin allergy.

Mexoryl SX
Stable UVA protection.
Less than 0.16% penetrated the skin of human volunteers.
No evidence of hormone disruption.
Skin allergy is rare.


My golden rule is “If I can’t eat it, it doesn’t go on my skin”.

If you’re unsure what is in your sunscreen or beauty products for that matter I highly recommend the book “The Chemical Maze”; grab your sunscreen bottle and look up the ingredients. Also check out Toxic beauty part 1 and 2 to get you started with researching chemicals in your beauty products.

What are some great natural alternatives?

**Please note I haven’t tried all of these brands myself, many of them have high recommendations from working on other people and their kids. Keep in mind that everyone is different. What might work for me and my skin may not work for you. You will need to make a decision based on what works for you and your skin.


1. EcoTan Sunscreen:

I have personally tried this one. It was easy to apply and worked well in terms of sun protection. The only thing I didn’t like was the pigment it left on me after applying it, you could tell I had sunscreen on.

2. Wot Not sunscreen:

This is one of the first natural sunscreen brands I tried. It was easy to apply and worked well in terms of sun protection. I did find it quite thick and oily. I didn’t use it all up and by the next time I went to use it, the ingredients had separated.

3. UV natural sunscreen:

This was recommended by a lady in my Facebook group (Women who love toxic free and healthy living) She has had great results and it’s also been given great recommendations by women in other toxic free living groups I’m in on facebook. I haven’t used it personally.

4. Moo goo:

Another natural sunscreen recommendation. I haven’t tried it myself but the reviews I have seen so far have been great. A moisturising cream with an SPF of 15.

5. Surf yogis Surf screen:

For something a little more ‘heavy duty’ when you’re in the surf.

6. Make your own: Yes, it’s absolutely possible to make your own sunscreen. I am yet to try this but as soon as I get my hands on some Zinc oxide I’ll be putting this recipe to the test.

7. Cover up: Grab a wide brimmed hat and a long sleeve top before you head out into the sun. I love to cover up with my straw hat and tie-dyed sarong. Its comfy and works a treat to stay safe under those rays.  Add a pair of sunnies for some swag and extra protection.



8. Choose your hours: Be sun smart and avoid having your bare skin exposed without any protection during peak sun hours. You can do a google search of your local area by typing in ‘UV index’ with your location. If you are in Australia check out The Bureau of Meterology  and if you are in NZ check out NIWA.

Is there anything else I should know about chemicals in sunscreen?

YES! – Sunscreens are now being shown to harm our coral reefs (WHAT THE?!).

The chemical, oxybenzone has been found to contribute to coral bleaching and causes deformation to the coral skeleton. Sunscreen is entering our waterways and oceans via swimmers, municipal, residential, and boat/ship wastewater discharges. Currently, somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters coral reef areas around the world each year (according to the U.S. National Park Service).

It’s really important we take responsibility for what is rinsing off our bodies and into the environment.

For me this is another reminder of how interconnected we are with our planet and the creatures that we share it with.

These chemicals are not only harming our own delicate (human body) ecosystem but they are harming the many ecosystems on our earth too.

It’s so important to get some sunshine in your day. But we don’t want to be compromising our health by getting burnt or being exposed to hormone disrupting chemicals. There are so many great natural sunscreens on the market that protect us (and our ocean friends) from the sun and keep us healthy. It’s just a matter of investigating the ingredients and finding a brand that works for you.

What sunscreen do you use?

Is there another great brand you would add to the list?

Let us know in the comments

Regan xx

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  • […] 3. Choose ocean friendly products: Research the brands you currently use, what are their business ethics? Do they make their products using sustainable practices and use natural/low toxic ingredients? Not only is it better for our oceans, it’s a healthier choice for your body too. Start with getting some organic surf wax and a natural/organic sunscreen. […]

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