We all know how important sunscreen is to protect our skin from skin cancer, sun damage, and ageing, but is all sunscreen created equal? The short answer is no. In recent years, chemical sunscreens have come under fire for negative health and environmental effects, laden with toxic chemicals and nasty ingredients. Luckily there is an alternative answer to sun protection in the form of mineral sunscreen. Let’s take a closer look as to why you should make the switch from traditional chemical sunscreen to mineral.
What is mineral sunscreen?
Without getting too sciency, mineral sunscreens protect your skin by physically blocking and reflecting UV light like a shield. They block both UVA rays (those that can cause premature aging) and UVB rays (the ones responsible for burns). Chemical sunscreens – which are what most of us have been using for years, absorb UV light, then release it as heat after a chemical reaction has taken place.
Mineral sunscreens are a good non-toxic option when compared to chemical sunscreens. They are chemically inert, don’t penetrate the skin, and aren’t absorbed systemically.
What’s wrong with chemical sunscreen?
In February 2019, the FDA released a statement claiming that only two of the sixteen common active ingredients in regular sunscreen (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) were “generally recognised as safe and effective”. Additionally, the Environmental Working Group’s researchers found that two-thirds of the more than 1,300 sunscreens on the market either don’t provide enough protection or contain ingredients that are particularly concerning, such as oxybenzone, which may have hormone-disrupting qualities dangerous for children.
The benefits of mineral sunscreen
Here are the top benefits of making the switch to mineral sunscreen:
- They are made without hormone-disrupting chemicals
- They calm the skin, while chemical sunscreens can irritate
- They don’t kill coral so are reef safe – two of the most widely used chemical sunscreen ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate, were banned last year in Hawaii because they devastate marine life, particularly coral
- They work the second you put them on while chemical sunscreens take about 20 minutes to begin working
- They are safe for babies and children. None of us should be exposing ourselves to hormone-disrupting chemicals in personal-care products, but it’s especially important to avoid exposing babies and children, whose bodies are still developing and more vulnerable
Are there any negatives to mineral sunscreen?
The biggest drawback of using mineral sunscreen has always been how thick and chalky it is when applied to the skin. Think of the zinc stripes that lifeguards are known for – not a good look! This can be particularly annoying for those with darker sin tones trying to blend the product in. However thanks to new formulations and advances in technology, this isn’t such a problem anymore. There are plenty of brands with lightweight more blendable mineral sunscreens.
How should you choose which one to buy?
First things first, check the ingredients. A true mineral sunscreen only has zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or a combination of both. Your product should also be at least SPF30 and be broad spectrum. If all those boxes are ticked it will come down to personal preference on the feel of the product and whether you prefer tinted, or untinted varieties.
If in doubt, the Environmental Working Group has released its annual guide to safe sunscreens for 2020. You can type in the name of your sunscreen at EWG.org to see how it’s ranked and get a full ingredient breakdown.