Say Yes to Sunscreen (But No to Toxic Ones)
Summer is finally here, which means you’ll be spending a lot more time outdoors. Whether you choose to soak up the sun on the sand, in the shore, or on a mountain in the sky, it’s a given that you’ll have to apply sunscreen no matter what you’re doing or where you are.
It’s a common misconception that SPF can be skipped if the sun isn’t out, when in fact, applying (and reapplying!) sunscreen should be an essential step in your daily skincare routine every single day and not a habit reserved exclusively for the summer months. Wearing sunscreen helps reduce the risk of UV-caused sunburns, skin cancer and ward off the signs of premature aging during all four seasons. While it’s true that it’s especially important to apply during the summer when the days are longer and the sun is stronger, prevention should remain a year-round concern. In addition to protecting yourself from the sun, you should cover up with clothing and hats (and sunglasses to protect your eyes), as well as limiting time in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Not all sunscreens are created equally. In fact, a 2019 report from Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that nearly two-thirds of sunscreens don’t work and/or contain an alarming number of toxic ingredients that are readily absorbed by the body. While there have been significant improvements in sunscreen ingredients over the last decade, the vast majority of sunscreens sold in the U.S. still contain harmful chemicals.
When buying a sunscreen, it’s important to choose one with clean and non-toxic ingredients. However, with so many options on the market, shopping for sunscreen can be extremely overwhelming, especially for someone who doesn’t know the difference between natural (aka “mineral” or “physical”) and chemical sunscreens.
To guide you in the right direction, we’ve outlined the difference and what you should look for.
Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen
The difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen is in the ingredients and how they work to shield you from the sun. Mineral sunscreen uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, or sometimes a combination of both, to physically block the sun’s UVA and UVB rays by forming a barrier that sits on top of your skin instead of penetrating it. Mineral sunscreens protect your skin from the sun immediately upon application – unlike conventional sunscreens, which take up to 20 minutes to become effective.
Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, absorb the sun’s rays with chemicals like oxybenzone or avobenzone. Before these chemicals can offer any UV protection, your skin has to absorb them, which can cause irritation and discomfort, especially for children with sensitive skin. “Chemical sunscreens tend to have higher rates of allergic dermatitis and skin irritation,” says Lucy Chen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Diane Walder Dermatology in Bay Harbor Islands, Florida.
Concerns about Chemical Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens typically include a potent cocktail of chemicals like octinoxate, oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, and homosalate, many of which have been associated with hormone and endocrine disruption. These chemicals can mimic the hormones our bodies create, and disrupt everything from our reproductive systems to our metabolism. Additionally, trace amounts of the chemicals found in chemical sunscreen can seep into our bloodstream. Oxybenzone is also incredibly toxic to marine life; so much so that effective January 1, 2021, it along with another chemical, oxtinoxate, will be banned altogether in Hawaii and Key West for their harmful effects on coral reefs.
It’s clear why we prefer and recommend mineral sunscreens, as it protects the skin just as well, if not better than those of the chemical variety, without the harsh ingredients.
So next time you’re in the market for a new bottle, be sure to check out these top-rated picks below. EWG has given them all a number 1 rating. A 1 is the best possible rating, which reflects the product’s ingredients low health concerns and excellent balance of UVA/UVB protection.
Thinksport Natural Sunscreen SPF 50
A favorite of runners, hikers, cyclists and triathletes, and the first sunscreen to pass Whole Foods Premium Care requirements. This mineral-based sunscreen comes with 20% zinc oxide to provide broad-spectrum UVB and UVA protection. It’s also water-resistant up to 80 minutes.
Badger Broad Spectrum 30 (Active) – Clear Zinc
Specifically formulated for sensitive skin, this broad-spectrum sunscreen with 98% organic ingredients comes with five key ingredients including vitamin E, sunflower oil, sea buckthorn, beeswax, and 18.75% non-nano zinc oxide. There are no scented extracts in this sunscreen, and it is thick enough to easily rub on your skin for long-lasting protection.
Goddess Garden SPF 30 Facial Natural Mineral Sunscreen
Goddess Garden SPF 30 Facial is formulated with organic, plant-based ingredients to nourish your skin. It includes immortelle and lavender essential oils to help repair skin from sun’s damaging rays. Ultra-sheer and lightweight, this powerful sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection with pure, reef-safe minerals.