The sun-safe beauty buys saving our coral reefs

Natural, mineral, physical, and non-chemical. What's the big deal with non-chemical sunscreen and which one should you try?

Here at Lifestyle, we are big champions of broad-spectrum sun protection. Our sun’s seriously damaging and life-threatening ultraviolet rays aren’t something to be taken lightly—and sunscreen is our nonnegotiable outdoor chaperone, all year round.

But when Hawaii recently banned the sale of sunscreen to protect its coral reefs, we had to wonder what was so harmful about our faithful protector, and what, if any, working alternatives were out there.

Is regular sunscreen unsafe?

While the conversation around non-chemical sunscreens has been popular in the States for a few years now, the concept of non-chemical sunscreen hasn’t been quite as fashionable under the heat of the scorching Australian sun.

Hawaii's landmark decision followed on from learnings revealed in a report on oxybenzone—a chemical found in most standard sun creams. The report suggested that oxybenzone was harming coral reefs, and while some scientists argue the evidence isn't yet conclusive, the EWG (Environmental Working Group) has labelled the chemical as a 'high hazard'.

Oxybenzone also has a (very) bad rap when it comes to its topical use on our skin. It's said to be one of the biggest offenders of allergic skin reactions, and has been linked to endometriosis, damage to reproductive systems, and increased risk of hormone-related cancers in men and women. 

Other potentially toxic chemicals found in common sunscreens include avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

What is non-chemical sunscreen?

Sometimes called mineral, physical, or natural sunscreen, one of the key differences in non-chemical sunscreens is that they work by creating a barrier on your skin.

The protective ingredient in natural sunscreens is typically zinc oxide, and this forms a film on top of your skin that reflects or scatters UV light. This is different from chemical sunscreens, which will absorb UV rays before they can do any damage. 

Here in Australia, it's unlikely we'll ban chemical sunscreens soon, but some measures are being implemented to safeguard our sun protection. Cancer Council products no longer have oxybenzone, and they are slowly phasing out octinoxate.

And happily, there is an ocean of non-chemical alternatives out there, so you can slip, slop, slap without a care.

Here are a few of our favourite natural and non-chemical sun creams.  

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