Under the sun: our advice on how to protect yourself

By WECF France

Protecting yourself from the sun and its ultraviolet (UV) rays is essential to maintain the health of your skin. But not at any price! Some sunscreens contain concerning substances that we recommend you avoid. 

To remember 

  • Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the main risk factor for skin cancer 
  • Avoid exposure to the sun during the hottest hours, between 12pm and 4pm (in the middle of summer) 
  • It is necessary to protect yourself from the sun with appropriate clothing and high factor sunscreen 
  • Staying hydrated: nothing is more important! It is essential to drink enough water and to adapt your diet (opt for water-rich foods and avoid sugar, alcohol or coffee, which dehydrate). 
  • Some sunscreens contain chemical substances that are toxic to human health and the environment 

Ultraviolet (UV) exposure and health 

The sun generates invisible light rays, ultraviolet rays, which easily penetrate the skin and can be dangerous. They are particularly strong from May to August, due to the position of the Earth in relation to the sun. 

  • UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and are responsible for premature skin aging 
  • UVB rays, 1000 times more powerful than UVA, are responsible for sunburn 

Exposure to the sun is important for health as it allows the development of vitamin D. But controlled and limited exposure is recommended to limit the risk of skin cancers and the development of melanomas linked to overexposure. Many of these cancers could be prevented by adopting appropriate sun protection. 

In addition to the dangerous effects on children, who are very vulnerable, the sun also affects certain professionals who have no choice but to be exposed to high temperatures under the blazing sun (construction, road maintenance, outdoor catering, agriculture, etc.). Protective measures must be taken for these workers.  

Protection needed  


Sunscreens: too many concerning substances!

WECF France and Agir pour l’Environnement (a French organization which works on environmental issues) conducted a survey in 2020 on the presence of concerning substances in sunscreens for children. The report identified 29 concerning substances out of 71 products listed, including 6 endocrine disruptors. Some sunscreens also contained nanoparticles and were not labelled correctly. 

WECF France and Agir pour l’environnement have called for an EU-wide ban on the sale of sunscreens containing these substances of very high concern. 

UV filters and aquatic life 

UV filters in sunscreens have a devastating effect on marine species, coral reefs which are essential to marine ecosystems but also in the regulation of ocean temperature. 

Bathing with non-biodegradable sunscreens releases a number of toxic and bioaccumulative substances into the oceans and seas. Choose biodegradable UV filters, which are less problematic for the environment. Beware of “environmentally friendly” or “coral friendly” labels, which have no value in terms of their actual impact on marine ecosystems. 

Be careful with the composition of sunscreens: read the labels! 

Choose your sunscreen with discernment 

  • Read the precautions for use: how often to renew its use, the minimum age recommended for applying it, the recommended storage method, the behaviour to adopt in the event of an expired product. 
  • It is essential to take an interest in the substances contained in sunscreens: read the ingredients to understand the composition of the sunscreen and banish those which contain substances of very high concern or nanoparticles (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in particular). 

Beware of greenwashing! 

“Stain-resistant formula”, “environmentally friendly”, “water-resistant”…You have all read at least once one of these formulas, which are for the most part crude, misleading or even deceptive… Beware of greenwashing! Manufacturers frequently use environmental and social arguments in their communications to improve their image by integrating this notion of “responsible and ecological consumption” into their manufacturing process. Many claim to integrate this notion as an environmental approach, but this is not the case: there is no such thing as a sunscreen that has no effect on the oceans. The ecological argument is sometimes put forward with varying degrees of legitimacy. 

WECF France participated in the consultation on the revision of the cosmetics regulation and demands a ban on hazardous substances in its consumer products. WECF France calls on EU legislators to: 

  • Ban the presence in cosmetics of toxic substances characterised as endocrine disruptors, persistent bioaccumulative and mobile products and persistent bioaccumulative and toxic substances. 
  • Better label of nanoparticles and a stricter and clearer definition. 
  • Create a new pictogram on these products that would provide a clear regulation and framework to discourage and reduce toxic substances in these products.