Sunscreens: Protecting the Kids, Yourself, and the Ocean

swimmers-and-reefThere is no dispute that sunscreen is a must, but alarmingly, two-thirds of more than 1300 products tested in the EWG’s Sunscreen Guide had safety concerns and/or were found to be ineffective. Two chemicals to look out for in your sunscreen are Oxybenzone and Octinozate (Octyl methoxycinnamate). EWG’s sunscreen chemical guide lists both with high hazard scores and labels them both as hormone disruptors. And when it comes to children – their smaller body mass and re-application rate due to their active play habits (in and out of water) put them at greater risk to the host of hormone disruptors commonly found in standard sunscreens.

Bleached Coral

Bleached Coral

Keep in mind, any chemical that compromises our health, as is the case with oxybenzone and the multiple list of chemicals found in our everyday personal care products, is 100% not healthy for the environment. Studies show that several chemicals used in sunscreens are culpable in the bleaching of coral reefs. A tiny amount of sunscreen containing oxybenzone –think one drop of water in six Olympic sized swimming pools – can have a devastating effect on a reef’s ability to absorb nutrients and thrive. Bleaching occurs when the brownish-green, nutrient rich algae is killed off, leaving a ghostly white coral skeleton. Once the coral is bleached, it can no longer host marine life, effectively ending entire eco-systems. Hawaii has banned the sale of sunscreens using chemicals harmful to marine ecology starting in 2021 and many additional island governments are on track to implementing regulations controlling for chemical sunscreens in the near future.

snorklingBefore slathering up note that All sunscreens are NOT created equal. Unfortunately, walking into the average drug or grocery store and grabbing sunscreen will most likely not protect you or the environment from harmful chemicals. Look for water-resistant, non-nanotized (with ingredients 100 nanometers in diameter or more) mineral-based sunscreens, which will keep your skin protected and coral reefs safe. Make sure the ingredients include zinc oxide, which provides UVA and UVB broad-spectrum sun protection.

rash-guardFor extended water activity, consider wearing a long-sleeve, sun-safe rash guard, which provides protection and reduces your need for sunscreen.


Look out for the big O’s – Oxybenzone & Octinoxate

These chemicals penetrate the skin and mimic estrogen and other hormones qualifying both as hormone disruptors. Both Oxybenzone iand Octinoxate are considered common allergins in sunscreens.

Avoid Spray Sunscreens

Aerosol spray sunscreens are problematic for a few reasons: They are, in many cases, full of chemicals potentially harmful to you when applied directly to your largest organ – your skin – let alone ingested or inhaled; even if the product is organic, breathing in nano or micro titanium/zinc particles is not advised; and finally, half the product goes into the air making adequate protection iffy – if not expensive!

Be cautious of high SPF’s (above 50)

A range of 30-100 SPF has shown marginal difference in protection, making the higher labeled SPF’s misleading. Sunscreens are most effective at blocking UVB rays, while the more deeply penetrating UVA rays are more difficult to protect against – so, a 50 SPF and a 100 SPF are comparable. All “broad spectrum” sunscreens must protect against UVA & UVB exposure and water resistance must be clearly marked as to reapplication time for safety. Broad spectrum sunscreen products will be clearly labeled as such – if not, the product is required to offer a clearly marked disclaimer that it may protect you from sunburn but NOT from skin cancer or pre-mature aging of the skin.

Avoid Sunscreen/Bug Spray combos

Chemicals that filter UVA rays can react with chemicals in insect repellants compromising sunburn protection.  Also, applying every two hours, as suggested, could cause overexposure to the repellent chemicals.

Look out for sunscreens containing Retinyl Palmitate or Vitamin A

Retinyl Palmitate is a form of vitamin A This chemical has been shown to speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. Vitamin A skin products may be benign if not exposed to sunlight (night creams, body lotions…) but have been shown to cause hyperplasia when exposed to sun as well as forming free radicals that can harm DNA. Those using anti-aging retinol products regularly should take extra-extra caution in the sun!

Avoid sunscreen powders and towelettes

These products have such sketchy protection properties that even the FDA bars them!

The good news – there are so many responsible and safe options out there. Check out this list and stock up before you hit the beach!

Ten jGj recommended Sunscreens

FlowerIconTinyButterbean Original Sunscreen SPF 30   

Butterbean Original makes this list every time. Great price for the value.

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $22.00 for 7 oz. ($3.14/oz.)


FlowerIconTinyBadger Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 Lavender   

You can’t go wrong with any of the Badger Sunscreens. They have many with an EWG #1 rating. Check out their Baby Natural Mineral and Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 Unscented!

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $12.79 for 2.9 oz. ($5.51/oz.)


FlowerIconTinyLa Roche-Posay’s Anthelios SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen—Gentle Lotion

Water resistant. Recommended for those with sensitive skin.

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $22.99 for 3 oz. ($7.66/oz.)


FlowerIconTinyAll Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Lotion

Leaves very little residue making it great for darker skin tones.

EWG Rating 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $15.99 for 3 oz. ($5.33/oz.)


FlowerIconTinyGoddess Garden Kid’s Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

Considered a top pick for kid’s sunscreens.

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $14.99 for 3.4 oz ($3.82/oz.)


FlowerIconTinyBlock Island Organics Natural Face Moisturizer SPF 30

Can be used for face and body. Reef-friendly and Vegan.

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $27.99 for 3.4 oz. ($8.23/oz.)


FlowerIconTinyCalifornia Baby Super Sensitive Broad Spectrum SPF 30 

For sensitive skin. Can be used on babies under six months. Water resistant with no fragrances.

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $19.99 for 2.9 oz ($6.89/oz.)


FlowerIconTinySunology Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

Great for extended time in the water. Noncomedogenic (won’t clog pores) and rich in antioxidants.

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $14.99 for 2 oz. ($7.50/oz.)


FlowerIconTinyCoola Mineral Body Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

Water resistant up to 80 minutes. Vegan/Non-GMO ingredients

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $36.00 for 5 oz. ($7.20/oz.)


FlowerIconTinyThinkSport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50

Great for outdoor sport protection. Water resistant up to 80 minutes.

EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it:; Price: $12.99 for 3 oz. ($4.33/oz.)




About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have. Also visit the Green Design Goods store for my favorite environmentally sustainable products.

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