Spray Sunscreen and Other Beauty Products That Are Bad for the Environment – The Cheat Sheet

With the dangers of sun damage and skin cancer lurking in every corner of the sky, many consumers have made sunscreen more apart of their daily lives. While this is a move in the right direction — and absolutely vital, according to dermatologists — not all sunscreens (especially spray sunscreens) are created equal. Despite protecting our delicate complexions from the sun’s harmful UV rays, many of them pose a threat to the environment and have even been banned in certain states.

Wondering if spray sunscreen is bad for the environment? We air out the beauty industry’s dirty laundry — and share other products of concern — ahead.

Woman applying sunscreen | Fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Spray sunscreen

Problem: Chemicals

Albeit convenient, spray sunscreens can be extremely harmful to us and the environment. The main cause of harm? Chemicals. Sunscreen formulas contain dangerous ingredients which are why environmentalists recommend steering clear of spray sunscreens, as they are easily inhaled.

Speaking of dangerous chemicals, some of them are so bad for the environment that states such as Hawaii recently banned sunscreens formulated with them. The two main culprits? Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. Both of these chemicals pose a serious threat to marine life and have the power to devastate the ocean’s coral reefs.

That said, spray sunscreen isn’t the only kinds of SPF with these harmful ingredients — many cream sunscreens do too. If you’re concerned about how sunscreen impacts the planet, be sure to read the label and try natural formulas when possible.


Problem: Synthetic fragrance

One of the main concerns with perfume is synthetic fragrances. While not all perfumes are formulated with the ingredient, many — including some of the most popular scents and brands — are. Some studies show that, like sunscreen chemicals, synthetic fragrances make their way to the ocean through showering (sewage) and can have a harmful impact on marine life.

Unfortunately, perfumes are only part of the problem. In addition to your signature scent, your favorite body lotion or shampoo and conditioner duo might also contain synthetic fragrances. If protecting the ocean from synthetic fragrances is a concern of yours, consider switching to more natural products that use essential oils to scent their formulas.

Speaking of essential oils, they make great natural perfume! Instead of spritzing a synthetically fragranced perfume, try essential oils. You can find many options — typically in roller balls for easy application — online or DIY your own if you’re feeling crafty.

Exfoliating body wash

Problem: Plastic microbeads

Before 2015, many exfoliating body washes contained tiny plastic beads called microbeads. That said, thanks to the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, the beauty industry can no longer manufacture and distribute products formulated with microbeads. That said, the deadline to stop delivering products with microbeads was July 1, 2018, so you might still come across them.

Microbeads are small abrasive beads made of plastic that exfoliate and cleanse the skin. However, after recognizing how harmful the plastic particles can be to marine life, Congress put its foot down. According to the FDA, “the concern is that microbeads may not be filtered through treatment filtration systems and end up in our lakes and ocean, where they may be mistaken for food by small fish and other wildlife.”

With so many natural exfoliants available, there isn’t a reason to manufacture skin care with the plastic ingredient, anyways.


Problem: Chemicals

With the popularity of natural deodorants, mainstream brands have taken a hit — and with good reason. Studies show some chemicals in mainstream deodorants might cause cancer and harm the environment, too. Similar to perfume, many deodorants contain synthetic fragrances that can negatively impact the environment (and our bodies).

If this concerns you, try switching to a natural deodorant brand, such as Tom’s of Maine which can be found online or in stores such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and even CVS.

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