SOS: Save Our Skin

Summer is upon us, and with beaches beckoning and UV rays burning, it's time to dig out that sunscreen. Here's our pick of the best clean and eco-friendly sunscreens.

Max Dupain, Sunbaker
Max Dupain, Sunbaker, Australia 1911 - 1992 Sunbaker 1975 print from 1937 negative gelatin silver photograph image. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

If, like me, you were blessed with the complexion of Nosferatu and spent any time growing up in Australia, there’s probably one product that has been a necessity in your daily life from childhood, and that is sunscreen.

Lately, I’ve been obsessing a little more than usual over sunscreen, scrutinising the ingredients list. If it’s something you wear on your skin every day, then it should be up for scrutiny, right?  For the past few years I have been loyal to the sunscreen of a certain German cult skincare brand which markets itself as clean. Another brand I had been using markets itself as organic and ‘reef-friendly’, but when I took a closer look at the ingredients of both sunscreens I learnt all wasn’t as the marketing suggested. The labelling–and media– emphasised the natural, ‘organic’ ingredients of the sunscreens, and skimmed over the most important of all–the chemical UV filters.

Reef Friendly

My formerly beloved (and eye-wateringly pricey) sunscreen contained parabens such as methylparaben, ethylparaben, as well as avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate (EWG hazard score of 6), and octisalate. These last four are common active chemical sun filters, and far from clean, despite the hype in fashion magazines and amongst influencers. Let that be a lesson: always do your own research.

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s UV rays which are then transformed by the chemical sun filters. They employ a potent combination of the aforementioned chemicals, as well as oxybenzone, and octocrylene. Oxybenzone is pernicious (it earns an 8 from the EWG) and is listed as a direct cause of coral bleaching— Hawaii has banned its sale and other US states are following suite. And if it’s in our oceans, then it’s also in marine life and seafood. Far from clean.

In your skin

Should you be concerned? Your skin is the largest organ of your body and because it is porous, it absorbs everything you put on it. Oxybenzone is such a widely used chemical filter—found in an estimated 60 percent of US sunscreens—that traces of it have reportedly been found in 97 percent of the U.S. popu