Slip slop slap ... but which sunscreen is best?

Slip slop slap!
Slip slop slap! 

It’s summer, it’s hot and it’s time to slap on the sunscreen. But which one?

I try to use natural most of the time, more to avoid the number of chemicals we're using on our bodies. For those times when you don't have the products you normally use on hand, I'd choose putting sunscreen on rather than worrying about the ingredients. 

It makes the most sense to avoid the sun during the hottest hours. The reality is the beach or pool beckons and let’s face it swimming in summer in Australia is great fun. So cover up as much as possible, hat, rashie, boardies and use lots of sunscreen.

Unfortunately there are a lot of products out there that aren't so good for your skin, you and the environment. Here are some things to look for to help you choose a better sunscreen.

Choose Broad Spectrum sunscreen

Make sure it contains both UVA and UVB protection. One of the biggest issues with a lot of the sunscreen products on the market is they don’t have UVA protection. They protect from sunburn which is UVB, but don’t contain the right ingredients to protect from the more damaging UVA which are the sun rays linked to skin damage, aging and the more serious skin problems like skin cancer.

Avoid oxyebenzone

This ingredient is widely utilised and has a high rate of absorption into the skin, high rates of allergic reaction and growing concerns about hormone disruption.

Choose sunscreen with zine oxide


Your sunscreen should have at least 7% zinc oxcide to replace the oxyebenzone. Zinc oxcide is a physical sun blocker which means it sits on the skin and isn’t absorbed like chemical actives which actually absorb these rays. Chemical UV-absorbers are absorbed very easily into the body and into the bloodstream which have the potential to cause health problems. Chemical sunscreens are also more prone to causing problems with allergies.

What are nano-particles?

There’s some dispute about the use of nano-particles and how much damage they do. Essentially zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are used in sunscreen to deflect UV rays. Zinc and titanium create a physical not chemical barrier as in a lot of sunscreens. Because they leave a white film on the skin, some sunscreen companies break these down to an extremely small or ‘nano’ size. Research suggests these aren't actually absorbed by the skin, the concern is actually around inhaling the small particles.

Some sunscreen companies specify whether they use nano-particles or not. However there's no obligation in Australia to state whether they use nano-particles, so reading the ingredients on a sunscreen doesn't necessarily help with determining whether they use nano-particles or not.

The Cancer Council sunscreens don't have nano-particles in their products and have a good range of readily available products to use if you're concerned about this. 

Avoid spray or powder sunscreens that use nano-size zinc particles as these are more likely to be inhaled. They're also slightly over-designed products. How hard can it be to put on a sunscreen lotion?

Avoid fragrance

This should generally be avoided in cosmetic products anyhow unless they’re plant based. Artificial fragrances generally contain phthalates which can trigger allergic reactions and other health problems.

Go natural

If you want to avoid the chemical and go for a sunscreen that uses natural ingredients, here’s some brands that work as both a sunscreen and are delicious on your skin:

  • Soleo Organics SPF 30+:

This is one of my favourites. It’s made in Australia and from natural ingredients without any chemical UV-absorbers, titanium dioxide or synthetic preservatives.  If you’ve been using non-natural sunscreens you may find this harder to apply, warming it up quickly in your hands gets around this problem. 

  • UV Natural SPF 30+:

This is another Australia product that’s made from natural products. It contains grapeseed oil and green tea. No added fragrance and uses natural preservatives.

  • Wot Not SPF 30+:

This is enriched with organic aloe vera and vitamin E. I love the smell of this one, but my kids don’t so much for some reason. No nasties and gentle on the skin.

Emma McDonald is the founder of SummerChild – a place for mums-to-be and parents who live green. Browse their fabulous range of homemade baby gifts, organic baby products and eco friendly products.