Dive Deeper Blog

What is a Chemical-Free Sunscreen?

May 3, 2017

Does your product contain ‘chemicals’?

Chemical-free sunscreen – Everyone is asking about it right now.  I’ve been formulating natural skin care products for nearly 20 years.  Every ingredient I use is consciously chosen: sustainably sourced botanicals, nourishing oils and processed ingredients with a small carbon foot-print.  Before selecting, I check its compatibility with the Whole Foods standard, EcoCert, Environmental Working Group and of course the Material Safety Data Sheet.

Many of our readers, customers and friends know me as a diver, but I also studied organic chemistry in college and am a cosmetic chemist.  I believe chemistry is the central science – everything is based on chemicals.  Hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon…  One of the questions that used to drive me up a wall was ‘Do your products contain chemicals?’  What I wanted to say was ‘Of course they do! You are thousands of chemicals. The air we breathe has chemicals. Everything is made of chemicals!’  But instead, I would calmly answer ‘My products don’t contain any harmful or toxic chemical ingredients.’

Yet, I just posted a video on my personal facebook page and commented ‘Choose chemical free sunscreens.’  What the heck?

There is a drive among conscious consumers to choose ‘Chemical-Free Sunscreens’

And I love the intent of this!  Those that are truly concerned with the health of our oceans (and our own bodies) are consciously choosing mineral-based sunscreens instead of ‘organic chemical’ sunscreens.  Of course, mineral sunscreens are chemicals too, but they are inorganic chemical compounds.

Here’s where it can get really confusing:

“Organic” doesn’t always mean what you think it does

When most people see the word “organic,” they think natural, wholesome and safe. Most people, however, aren’t chemists who know that “organic” also means carbon-based.

So what’s the big deal?

Simply put, some really nasty chemical sunscreen ingredients can be labeled “organic” because they’re made with carbon. The manufacturers aren’t lying, but they certainly aren’t telling the whole truth.

Take oxybenzone, also known as Benzophenone-3, for instance. According to the manufacturer, oxybenzone is an organic compound commonly found in sunscreens due to its UVA and UVB absorbing qualities.  This compound has the empirical chemical formula C14H12O3, classifiying it as an ‘organic’ chemical ingredient.

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that 97% of Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone. This ingredient has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and of course, coral mortality.  Oxybenzone is also used to help other chemicals penetrate the skin.  The Environmental Working Group identified nearly 600 sunscreens sold in the U.S. that contain oxybenzone, including products by reef safe, Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone, and Banana Boat.

This is definitely not the kind of ‘organic’ ingredient most of us would want in our skincare products – particularly when a new report shows that 85% of 53 samples of mother’s milk tested positive for chemical sunscreen ingredients. That includes oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnimate that are carbon-based and therefore can be labeled as organic.

There is so much misinformation, deception and confusion surrounding sunscreens and other cosmetics.  I recently found myself saying that our sunscreen is chemical free.  What I mean is that we do not include any of the harmful or toxic organic UV filters.  But this is the wrong way to educate.  I will do better, and will remember to answer the question as ‘we do not contain any harmful or toxic UV filters.’

Please friends… know your ingredients! Just because a product says that it is ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or even ‘ocean reef safe’, does not mean that it is.  Turn the bottle over and check out the ‘active’ and ‘inactive’ ingredients.  Read the last few lines of the inactive ingredients (formulators like to bury nasty stuff there).  Avoid chemical UV filters and tell your friends why.  If you would like one or many convenient, wallet sized Ingredients to Avoid cards, just send us a message with your address and we will send to you.

I never want to misinform, and believe that knowledge is power.  I’d love your opinion on this and how I might be able to do better. Drop me a line here.


Autumn Blum
Formulator & CEO.
Stream2Sea – home of the EcoConscious Mineral Sunscreen


Stream2Sea has set a new standard for EcoConscious sunscreen and skincare. Along with standard human safety and SPF tests, Stream2Sea products are proven to be biodegradable in both salt water and fresh water,  have passed a comprehensive series of aquatic toxicity tests and was formulated without ingredients known to harm the environment.  Formulated with powerful antioxidant blends to protect skin from sun damage, the Stream2Sea line includes sunscreens, conditioning shampoo and body wash, leave-in conditioner, nourishing body lotion and lip balms. Stream2Sea products are currently available online at www.Stream2Sea.com or ask for them at your favorite health food store, dive center or outdoor retailer. Friend us on Facebook or call (866) 960-9513.