Following the cyclical patterns often observed nature, the sunscreen industry has begun to complete the first rotation of its existence. After simple plant-based roots gave way to petroleum jelly based products and then mostly synthetic sunscreens, the most common sunscreens in use today are trending back towards their plant and mineral-based roots.
The harsh effects of many chemicals and forms of mineral used over the last 90 years or so have slowly been exposed. Many chemicals used to absorb UV rays from the sun, such as oxybenzone, have been found to be even worse for the skin than using no sunscreen at all. A number of them are now considered to be cancer-causing and toxic for many systems of the body. Nano-minerals on the other hand, which became popular during the 70’s, had staggering negative effects on coastal environments as they were absorbed by coral in reefs leading to bleaching and eventual death of the reefs in masse. This resulted in long-lasting changes in local environments and biodiversity, with the help of other pollutants and human activity still felt to this day
Science has clearly outlined many of the issues with sunscreens of yesterday, so too has it allowed us to understand much of the science behind herbal-based sunscreens and traditional pastes that were used by ancient civilizations that frequently dealt with the sun’s harsh rays.
First off minerals, such as zinc oxide, are naturally occurring and safe for humans, fauna, and flora. It is only when in its unnatural form it becomes problematic for the environment. Clay, which is rich in zinc, has commonly been used as a physical mineral-based barrier in many cultures and is still used to this day as a great natural sunscreen. Furthermore many traditional plant-based pastes such as thanaka created physical barriers with an added antioxidant punch that helped clear the inflammation and damage caused by prolonged sun exposure. As for herbs, there are tons of scientific articles and clinical research regarding plant's healing abilities in regard to sun exposure. Various herbs including calendula, comfrey, and rhatany have been shown to help absorb UV rays, repair cellular damage, or rejuvenate the skin.
As a Skincare company, we could not be happier that science is beginning to acknowledge and confirm natural and ancient methods of providing protection from the sun and its negative effects on skin health. You’ll find that if you visit your local store or pharmacy they will likely have a number of non-nano and chemical-free sunscreens that have many plant-based ingredients in them. Long gone are the days of slapping toxic petroleum jelly on your face and back are the days of using the natural resources around us to adapt to the immediate environments that we interact with. When purchases are made with a healthy and eco-conscious mindset, the consumers can shift the direction of entire industries. So the next time you are looking for a sunscreen make sure it is one that you can read and understand every word on the ingredients list further empowering the use of natural and sustainable sunscreen and sun-related products.
Dr. Thomas Macsay