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Exploring the Depths of Sunscreen: A Comprehensive Guide

sunscreen safety, sustainability, environmental impact, sensitive skin

Written By: Annie Hessler


As the sun's rays become more intense, many of us reach for sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV radiation. However, sunscreen isn't just a simple product; it's a complex formulation with impacts on both human health and the environment. In this deep dive, we'll explore the multifaceted aspects of sunscreen, focusing on five key markers for quality: environmental impact, health considerations, user-friendliness, price, and production. 

Overall, sunscreen is a vital tool for guarding against sun-induced skin damage, but its impact extends beyond individual health benefits. By prioritizing environmentally friendly formulations, conducting rigorous safety assessments, and promoting sun-safe practices, we can navigate the complexities of sunscreen with greater awareness and responsibility. As we bask in the sun's warmth, let's ensure that our choices promote both personal well-Ieing and enviHonmental stewardship.

Environmental Impact, Animal Testing, and Packaging of Sunscreens:

Sunscreen is designed to safeguard our skin, but its ingredients can have unintended consequences on the surrounding environment. It has been suggested that aquatic systems have both organic and inorganic UV filters (Myrto Chatzigianni et al.). Once released, these filters can accumulate in marine life, potentially disrupting ecosystems and harming coral reefs. Oxybenzone, a common organic UV filter, has been implicated in coral bleaching and is now banned in certain jurisdictions. 

Sunscreen ingredients, including oxybenzone, can harm freshwater ecosystems like Lake Michigan, disrupting aquatic life and posing risks to biodiversity and human health through bioaccumulation and hormone disruption.

Moreover, the lifecycle of sunscreen presents environmental risks as nanoparticulate UV filters, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, may enter water bodies after use, potentially harming aquatic life (Jérôme Labille et al.). Proper disposal and recycling of sunscreen packaging are crucial to reduce environmental impact. Transparency in labeling and regulation is essential to mitigate risks associated with nanoparticles in sunscreens, enabling consumers to make informed choices. Promoting responsible disposal of sunscreen products, especially those with nanoparticles, can prevent environmental contamination and safeguard aquatic ecosystems (Sunscreens). Additionally, non-nanoparticle zinc, larger than 100 nm and unable to penetrate the skin, offers a safer alternative.

Health Impact and Allergies:

While sunscreen protects against sunburn and skin cancer, concerns have been raised regarding its health impacts, particularly systemic absorption of UV filters. Susie Suh et al. suggest that certain common sunscreen ingredients, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, may pose risks to human health, prompting bans in regions like Key West and Hawaii. However, current evidence is inconclusive, necessitating further research to validate potential associations with adverse health outcomes.

allergies, PFAS, skin rash

Allergies and sensitivities are another consideration when choosing sunscreen formulations carefully. Additionally, PFAS chemicals, prevalent in some sunscreens, have been linked to various health issues, including cancer and developmental abnormalities. Opting for PFAS-free products and seeking third-party certifications mitigate these risks.

User-Friendly Formulations:

kid-friendly, microplastics, UPF clothing

Beyond efficacy and safety, user experience plays a crucial role in sunscreen adoption. Aida, founder of 3 Little Plums, emphasizes the importance of user-friendly sun protection alternatives, especially for infants and young children. UPF clothing offers an additional layer of defense against UV radiation, complementing sunscreen usage. However, consumers should be mindful of chemical treatments and microplastic pollution associated with synthetic fabrics.

UPF clothing Links: 

Offers innovative sun protection with LumaLeo, featuring UPF 50+ fabric for everyday wear. Feel good inside and out with our stylish, sustainable designs. 

SUN50 - 

Trusted for chemical-free UPF 50+ protection, proudly made in the USA with quality craftsmanship and earth-friendly fabrics, ensuring both skin safety and environmental responsibility in every wear.

Seeking Local Clothing? Explore Local Fashion at Crystal Lake Adventure Sports. Discover their selection of UPF clothing, available both in-store and online (seasonal clothes vary) at the Frankfort Main Street location, 312.

Moreover, awareness campaigns led by organizations like the  Environmental Working Group (EWG) educate consumers on proper sunscreen application and the limitations of SPF ratings. Encouraging sun-safe behaviors, such as seeking shade and wearing protective clothing, alongside sunscreen use, enhances overall sun protection effectiveness.

Now… Let's Talk Price and Production: 

Sunscreen prices can vary significantly depending on factors such as brand, formulation, and SPF rating. Generally, mineral-based sunscreens, which often feature zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients, tend to be more expensive than chemical-based alternatives. However, the cost can be justified by their perceived safety and effectiveness, particularly for individuals with sensitive skin or environmental concerns.

affordability, safe sunscreens, environmental working group

Accessibility to sunscreen products is widespread, with options available in pharmacies, supermarkets, online retailers, and specialty stores. Brands like Suntribe, as mentioned in the article by Hanna Oltmanns, prioritize clean ingredients and eco-friendly packaging, catering to environmentally conscious consumers. Moreover, initiatives by organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provide online databases and guides to help consumers navigate sunscreen options based on safety and efficacy ratings.

Production and Sourcing

The production of sunscreen involves sourcing raw materials, formulation, manufacturing, and packaging. As highlighted by Jérôme Labille et al., the use of nanoparticulate UV filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, presents challenges in terms of environmental impact and safety throughout the product life cycle. Manufacturers must consider factors like nanomaterial coating, disposal methods, and adherence to regulatory standards to minimize environmental risks.

Sunscreens are produced by various companies globally, with manufacturing facilities located in regions known for their expertise in cosmetic production. However, sourcing of raw materials, particularly UV filters, can be subject to ethical and sustainability considerations. Brands committed to eco-conscious practices may prioritize responsibly sourced ingredients and ethical manufacturing processes to minimize their environmental footprint.

In summary, while sunscreen prices and accessibility vary, consumers have access to a wide range of options to suit their preferences and needs. Brands that prioritize sustainability, transparency, and safety in production and sourcing appeal to an increasingly conscientious consumer base. By making informed choices and supporting ethical brands, consumers can contribute to a more sustainable and equitable sunscreen industry.


Click below to access the list of EWG verified sunscreens:


Our Top Picks by Category: 

Our recommendation here at Freshwater Wellness and EWG Verified: Attitude

Our top recommendation for health-conscious sun protection is Attitude sunscreen. Formulated with non-nano zinc oxide, it's EWG Verified, dermatologically tested for safety, and proudly vegan and cruelty-free. Attitude's SPF 30 body sunscreen offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection, minimizing ocean and eco-impact with reef-friendly ingredients. It appears that Attitude may be in the midst of a labeling change, so you can also find this sunscreen under the name Sunly. Oh, and don't forget to check out their tinted sunstick and their sensitive skin sunstick!

Price: $15 to $25

Pediatrician-approved and EWG verified, it's crafted with soothing chamomile and calendula for delicate and sensitive skin. Made with EcoSafe Zinc™, it provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection while being water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Lightweight and non-greasy, it's suitable for daily use. Plus, it's safe for Hawaii and other destinations with sunscreen bans.

Price: $22-26

Best Price, for kids (EWG Verified): Babo Botanicals Baby Skin Mineral Sunscreen Lotion

Formulated with natural zinc oxide, it offers broad-spectrum SPF50 protection and contains 24 plant-based ingredients, including nourishing shea butter. EWG Verified™ for safety and quality, this fragrance-free lotion is water-resistant and perfect for delicate skin.

Price: $10-20

Best Price: These are likely the most accessible, as they are often found at your local grocery or health food stores, and even some drug stores.

Shield your skin with Alba Botanica's SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion, endorsed by the Skin Cancer Foundation for its broad-spectrum UV protection. Crafted with 100% vegetarian ingredients, this hypoallergenic formula is environmentally friendly and cruelty-free.

Price: $10-11

Enjoy the sun safely with Sun Bum's SPF 30 Sunscreen Oil, featuring nourishing Organic Coconut Oil. Lightweight and non-greasy, it offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection with a delightful tropical scent. Cruelty-free and vegan, this convenient 5 oz size is ideal for outdoor activities.

Price: $19-20

Best Price for Black Skin and No White Cast: Black Girl Sunscreen

Black Girl Sunscreen offers a sunscreen designed by women of color, tailored for people of color, addressing sunburn concerns. Their product is an everyday sunscreen and moisturizer that dries clear, suitable for outdoor activities and under makeup. Committed to health and sustainability, their vegan formulas are cruelty-free and environmentally conscious. Additionally, they offer a recycling program for empty bottles.

Price: $16-19"

*This article contains affiliate links. Freshwater Wellness may earn a commission on purchases made through the links above.



Chatzigianni, M., Pavlou, P., Siamidi, A., Vlachou, M., Varvaresou, A., & Papageorgiou, S. (2022). Environmental impacts due to the use of sunscreen products: a mini-review. Ecotoxicology (London, England), 31(9), 1331–1345.

Labille, J., Catalano, R., Slomberg, D., Motellier, S., Pinsino, A., Hennebert, P., ... & Bartolomei, V. (2020). Assessing sunscreen lifecycle to minimize environmental risk posed by nanoparticulate UV-filters–a review for safer-by-design products. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 8, 101.

Oltmanns, H. (2023, May 4). What are PFAS and how to avoid them. Retrieved from 

Schneider, S. L., and Lim, H. W. (2019). A review of inorganic UV filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photomed. 35, 442–446. doi: 10.1111/phpp.12439 

Suh, S., Pham, C., Smith, J., & Mesinkovska, N. A. (2020). The banned sunscreen ingredients and their impact on human health: a systematic review. International journal of dermatology, 59(9), 1033-1042. 

Sunscreens, E. G. to. (n.d.). Nanoparticles in sunscreens: EWG’s guide to sunscreens. Nanoparticles in sunscreens | EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens.


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