women looking at sunset

What’s in Your Sunscreen?

You may have seen the recent news that Hawaii is on track to ban sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals known to harm the marine environment and damage the coral reef.

It’s a good time to ask, “What’s in my sunscreen?”.

Two Types of Sun Protection


Chemical sunscreens make up the majority of products on the market. The chemicals used in the sunscreen act as a filter, so they absorb and scatter the sun’s rays as heat.


Mineral sunscreens sit on the surface of the skin and reflect or bounce the sun’s rays away from the skin. They use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and are great for those with sensitive skin, kids and babies.

Effective Sunscreen

You will want to make sure your sunscreen has broad spectrum protection, which means it protects against UVA and UVB rays.


UVA rays do not cause your skin to change colour but they do cause damage to your skin and can penetrate clouds and glass.


UVB rays lead to sunburn – the most recognizable form of damage from the sun.


SPF is the Sun Protection Factor and measures the defense from UVB rays.

  • SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays

Sunscreens are not additive, meaning layering an SPF 15 with an SPF 30 does not equal SPF 45.

Check Expiry Dates

As with any personal care products, you want to check the expiry dates. Most are good for about two years. Also, if you are properly protecting yourself from the sun, one bottle of sunscreen should not last more than two years.

But, Get Some Vitamin D

Getting some direct sun exposure on your skin is an excellent source of Vitamin D, a very common deficiency for many of us, especially those of us in seasonal areas. However, you do not need a long time to get what you need. A suggestion I read to figure out how long you should be exposed is to take the time it would normally take for you to get “pink” (or however your skin changes), and cut that in half. So for me, that’s about 10 minutes, but for others, it might be longer.

Choosing a Safer Sunscreen

There is a lot of information about choosing a sunscreen. The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization focused on health and the environment, has compiled helpful information about selecting sun protection. While it is US-based, the information is useful.

My personal recommendation is Beautycounter’s new CounterSun line. As an independent consultant with Beautycounter, I had the opportunity to try this new offering, and I really like it. There is a lotion, stick and a new mist. The mist is non-aerosol, using air-pressure instead, it blends well, and it feels really nice on your skin.