sun drawn on atnned lady's back in sun cream

Natural Sunscreens: Having Their Moment in the Sun

Hot summer days are just around the corner and in the UAE that means one thing for your skin, it’s time to slather on the sunscreen. Emma Brain looks at why choosing a natural sunscreen is better for you and the planet

Sunscreens: the elixir of youth. The key component of any one’s daily skincare routine here in the UAE. Without it, forget your expensive serums and exorbitant moisturisers – your dream of youthful skin is going down the drain. But at what cost to the planet?

People have long used sunscreens to protect against the suns rays, so as not to burn, to avoid early ageing and also for the protection they give against cancer. As skin cancer is the most common form of the disease, with around 5.4 million people being diagnosed with one type or another every year in the United States alone, it’s important to protect your skin, the largest organ of the body, from exposure to the sun.

However, recent studies have shown that certain ingredients in traditional chemical sunscreens pose serious threats to our health and our environment.

Lady sat sunbathing on the beach
Sunscreens may protect us but not the environment. Credit: Ralph Ravi Kayde

Chemical sunscreens as we know them were invented in the 1970s with the key ingredients being oxybenzone and avobenzone, but while they were protecting us from the harmful rays of the sun, they were, and still are, in many cases, doing terrible harm to our environment.

When we swim or shower, sunscreen washes off and enters our waterways, affecting marine life and causing defects and reproductive issues in shellfish, fish and mammals such as dolphins while also contributing to coral bleaching. A 2022 study conducted by researchers at the University of Tehran confirms that sun cream used by beachgoers at a popular beach in Iran, Kish, is a source of damage to coral reefs in the Arabian Gulf.

Thankfully, the cosmetics market has been flooded in recent years with natural versions of sunscreen, but many have questioned whether they’re better than their synthetic chemical counterparts. So what’s the difference between traditional, chemical sunscreens and natural mineral based ones?

Natural versus Chemical Sunscreens

The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays, whereas the Zinc or Titanium Oxide in mineral based sunscreens deflects the harmful rays instead. The jury is still out as to whether one is better than the other for protection, but the good news is that they can now compete on how they make you look and feel.

Gone are the days when mineral sunscreens left thick white residue on your skin; the formulas are hugely improved, they rub in clear and offer a great many benefits. With ingredient lists touting the likes of Apricot Oil, Rosehip Oil, Green Tea, Purified Water and Vitamin E, it’s no wonder these synthetic free versions are kinder to sensitive skins and better for people who are prone to acne.

Natural sunscreens are, of course, a better choice for the environment with many classed as ‘reef safe’ – they’re free from ingredients, which cause problems to the marine environment such as coral bleaching and affecting the growth of algae. With huge tourist destinations such as Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Palau, and eco-tourist destinations in Mexico to name a few now banning chemical formula products, natural is booming.

So with that, here are our favourite natural sunscreens:

SunKiss

Sunkiss is a fantastic UAE brand, which offers various levels of protection.

They produce a variety of creams, sprays and lip balms, which all use non-toxic and safe natural ingredients such as Shea Butter, Jojoba and Coconut Oil.

But it’s not only their products that are better for human and environmental health, the Sunkiss packing is sustainable as well. The aluminium bottles are recyclable and produced using far less energy than plastic packaging. Simply get bottles refills when you run out which come in recyclable pouches.

Ultimate Protection Sunscreen from Ixora

Another excellent sun protector is the Ultimate Protection Sunscreen from Ixora, which uses botanical and mineral protection.

Free of all harmful chemicals, ingredients include Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Amorphophallus Konjac Root Extract, and Buriti Oil for ultimate protection

It also contains soothing and hydrating properties and is suitable for all ages from six months upwards. The brand also uses recycled packaging.

a natural sun cream bottle on the beach in the sand

Badger

Sunscreens from badger are recommended. Tube of sunscreen shown

Finally, another great eco-friendly sunscreen is Badger’s Broad Spectrum Sunscreen cream.

Like the others, it starts of white but rubs in clear and uses an anti-oxidant rich sunflower oil base with clear Zinc Oxide being the active ingredient.

Badger packaging also utilises recycled plastics and is made using solar energy for an added environmentally friendly aspect. It’s sold in the UAE, too.

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