We are all very aware that we need to avoid burning in the sun, in order to reduce the risk of cancer. Inevitably, sun cream is near the top of the shopping list when we are preparing for holidays or warmer weather at home. However, we need to be mindful that all sun creams are not equal, and some even contain harmful ingredients, which can damage both our health and the environment.

How does sun cream work?

We apply sun cream to our skin to protect it from harmful UVA (Ultraviolet A) rays and UVB (Ultraviolet B) rays. They do this by either absorbing or reflecting these rays. UVA is associated with burning and UVB is associated with ageing. Most of the rays which we absorb from the sun are UVA but it is essential that our sun cream contains protection from both UVA and UVB.

Harmful Ingredients

A good general rule of thumb when checking out skin care ingredients is, that if you don’t know what they are and if you can’t pronounce their name, then you are better off not using them. If they are not natural or organic, then we are putting our detoxification systems (liver, kidneys, lymphatic system and skin) under pressure, because they will have to try to eliminate them before they harm us.

This is a link to an article from the Environmental Working Group on this topic. For your information, these are among the ingredients you should especially avoid: Oxybenzone, Octinooxate, Homosalate, Octocrylene & Fragrances. These chemicals may not only be harmful, but can also potentially disrupt our hormones, which leads to a whole other range of health issues. I am making a huge effort to be more aware of trying to understand the labelling on skincare products better myself, and not just fall for the marketing. By the way, it is also better to avoid sprays, because there is a chance that we might inhale the chemicals. It is worth noting that, as with food, seeing natural or organic on the label is not a guarantee that they are completely free from chemicals, so check the ingredients label first.

Natural Mineral Sunblocks

There are types of sun protection which are called mineral sunblocks, because they use natural minerals to protect the skin, instead of chemicals. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide are among the most common, and they work by creating a physical barrier between the UV rays and your skin. This is why mineral sunblocks would be a thick, white, sticky consistency, which sits on top of your skin, instead of being absorbed into your skin.

Other Tips for Natural Protection

  • Stay in the shade or inside when the sun is at its peak, between 10am and 4pm. The shadow rule¬†tells us that if your shadow is shorter than your height, avoid the sun as the UV rays are too strong. When you are enjoying the sunshine outside, ensure that you have some shade nearby in the form of an umbrella for example.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Make sure that they have a UV rating of 400+ to avoid any issues with your eyesight related to UV exposure.
  • Note that we can still burn even if it turns cloudy or if we are spending our time in the water.
  • Wear hats or other sun protective clothing (especially kids who are having so much fun, that they may not think about burning)
  • Buy or make your own natural sunblock
  • Thanks to their antioxidants, vitamin C and beta-carotene, some foods have skin healthy nutrients, such as watermelon, carrots, cauliflower, blueberries and leafy greens. Lycopene found in watermelon and tomatoes is an antioxidant which has the potential to act as a natural sunblock.


We definitely want to enjoy the sun when it comes out, for all of its heart warming, mood enhancing, vitamin D benefits – I can’t wait!! However, we can also take some simple precautions to avoid damaging our cells in the process. Have fun in the sun!

Other Resources


Neurotoxic effect of active ingredients in sunscreen products, a contemporary reviews

Photo by BATCH by Wisconsin Hemp Scientific on Unsplash

Lyn Sharkey Nutrition
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