Why You Should Try A Natural Sunscreen This Summer

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about natural sunscreen. Even though I have found a ‘better’ sunscreen for my kids, I still cringe (a little) at what I’m smothering on their skin each morning before school. Because I don’t feel I know enough about it.

Sunscreen is a tricky one. I don’t feel comfortable making my own, and I don’t want to NOT use it, but I don’t just want to layer it onto my kids’ super awesome and absorbent skin either. Ermmm… quandary. If I’m honest with you, I don’t put it on my kids more than I do (don’t judge). We all know Vitamin D in its purest form (sun) is really good for us, BUT ALWAYS within SAFE limits.

So, I did my research – and here it is. Are you ready? Time to switch your brain on…

Wellness Mama says: “Of the 1,400+ sunscreens tested by the Environmental Working Group, only 5% met their safety standards and over 40% were listed as potentially contributing to skin cancer.

I (Wellness Mama) explain the reason that sunscreen may actually lead to skin cancer in this post, but one of the reasons is that a Vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, that is often used in sunscreens was shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells by 21%.

Many sunscreens also contain methylisothiazolinone, which the American Contact Dermatitis Society named as its “allergen of the year”.

She then goes on to say..

Most sunscreens completely block the body’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D. Statistically, 75% of us are deficient in Vitamin D and Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to higher risk of cancer and heart disease.

We might literally be cutting off our noses to spite our faces when it comes to sun exposure. We lather up with chemical sunscreens that have the potential to greatly increase skin cancer risk and reduce Vitamin D production in the name of avoiding skin cancer, and increase our risk of more widespread diseases related to Vitamin D deficiency.”

This was what I was wresting with, maybe because in Vancouver, we used to have to give our kids a drop of Vitamin D every day – which seemed crazy to me coming from sunny South Africa. They used to encourage us to get our kids naked and put them in direct sunlight for 20 min a day. Of course, this is all relative to where you live, your weather and state of the ozone layer above you.


But, DON’T PANIC. There are solutions to this (potentially terrifying) information: NATURAL SUNSCREEN.

I found interesting information on Natural Lab’s Blog and have added some thoughts from Wellness Mama’s blog post on the (controversial) topic. And they have sort of put my thoughts on paper (screen) for me… (my additions in italics).

Here are the benefits of a natural sunscreen: 

1. They contain no parabens. Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in personal care products. They stop fungus, bacteria and other microbes from growing in your products. Their names are a mouthful – methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben. Scientists have been debating for the last few years whether these chemicals are harmful to our health and are linked to cancer due to their ability to mimic estrogen. Research is not conclusive, however we would rather not take the chance.

2. They contain no artificial fragrance. It is estimated that the majority of synthetic fragrances on the market today are derived from petroleum by-products. A trademarked scent is protected by the law as a “trade secret”. These types of protected fragrances are not required to list the concoction of chemicals on the product label. They are only required to list the term “fragrance” or “parfum” with the list of allergens. The chemicals that are often used to formulate these fragrances can be toxic to the body over time as well as cause allergic reactions. Completely natural sunscreens use natural fragrances such as essential oils which do not contain these harmful chemicals. (I’ve always been wary of perfumes, scents or fragrances on my kids from a very early age; my first born had a severe reaction to them. Almost everything we use is scent free OR it only contains pure essential oils.) 

3. They contain no Chemical UV blockers. This gets a bit technical. (This is copied and pasted from the blog article!) Sunscreens can protect your skin using PHYSICAL (mineral) barriers or CHEMICAL barriers. Natural sunscreens use physical barriers, these are metals out of the ground such as Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which reflect or scatter the suns’ rays. These are safer to use than chemical barriers provided they are non-nano (particle size not too small which could potentially make its way into the blood stream). Chemical barriers are ingredients such as octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone-3 (oxybenzone) and benzophenone-4. These are very useful ingredients as they have the ability to absorb UV light very well, and protect your skin from UVA rays. However they also have a potential negative effect (not founded, we are saying “potential”). When a molecule of one of the above mentioned chemical UV blockers absorbs a UV photon (a quantum of UV light), it becomes excited (energised). However the sunblock molecule does not stay excited forever. Eventually it releases the absorbed energy by emitting lower energy protons and interacting with other molecules. These secondary effects often lead to the formation of harmful chemical byproducts, particularly free radicals. If this occurs inside the skin (i.e the molecule has penetrated the skin before absorbing UV photon) the free radicals (and possibly other secondary effects) may potentially cause skin damage, irritation, skin ageing and, some believe, increase the risk of cancer. Again, this is inconclusive, however we are led to believe that there is a risk of this happening based on various studies that have been performed.

phys-v-chem sunscreens

4. Chemical UV blockers may alter hormones and impair male fertility. Well that sounds awful. We’ll let you decide how grounded the research is based on the 501 couples they studied over a 4 year period. Read this article.

Wellness Mama agrees saying:

“This new research by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) reveals that the chemicals commonly used in sunscreen are endocrine disruptors, estrogenic and may interfere with thyroid and other hormone processes in the body.

The most common sunscreen chemical, Oxybenzone, was found in 96% of the population by a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This is especially alarming since oxybenzone is considered an endocrine disruptor, can reduce sperm count in men and may contribute to endometriosis in women.”

5. Natural Sunscreens are often rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants can offer skin health benefits and are touted to reduce oxidative stress by neutralising free radicals when the skin is exposed to UV light.

Here are some natural sunscreens available in South African Health Stores which we recommend you try:

oh lief sunscreen


It is important to be responsible with sun exposure, but many sunscreens offer a false security of sun protection and may do more harm than good.

The safest option is covering up and supporting skin health internally and externally. Mineral sunscreens (without nano particles or sunscreen chemicals) are a good option, but for the most part, spray and chemical sunscreens should be avoided (Consumer Reports warns that spray sunscreens should not be used on children and that adults should exercise caution and make sure not to use on the face or inhale them, as convenient as they are…)

More and more natural mineral sunscreens are on the market now, so please consider choosing safer sunscreens for your family!

Picture credit: www.kinooze.com, oh-lief, www.goddessgarden.com.

3 thoughts on “Why You Should Try A Natural Sunscreen This Summer

  1. Great article Debbie. I totally agree. I don’t apply sunscreen more than I do with my kids, unless I know exactly what it is I’m putting on their super sensitive, absorbant skin.

    I have some recipes if you ever feel brave enough to make your own, although I admit I take the easy road & buy from someone who makes their own using essential oils 😉

  2. Thanks for this post. I have to be honest and say while I know all this about sunscreens I tend to ‘stick my head in the sand’ a bit everytime I put it on them. Some of the natural sunscreens I’ve tried just haven’t been great, drying my kids skin out, not spreading nicely. Have you tried Oh Lief? Maybe I’ll give them a try this year. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Hi Bianca. I’ve used a number of international brands, but have just got my hands on a tube of oh-lief. I find the texture quite good. It does seem thick initially but if you rub it between your fingers and warm it up (soften the waxes), it actually spreads quite easily. They’re so oil based that it shouldn’t dry out the skin (but all skins are different).

      Something I do like is that it’s not funny and a little can go along way. Because it is a little thicker coming out the tube you don’t waste as much! Xxx

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