Most of us love the sunshine. It gives us Vitamin D, helps boost our mood, and strengthens our immunity. But, there’s a caveat. Too much exposure to UV rays, like those found in the sun, can do serious harm. The most notable damaging effects being skin cancer and premature aging. So, what’s our best defense against the unwanted consequences of sun exposure? It’s to use sunscreen on a daily basis.
When it comes to choosing the best sunscreen for you, you'll be faced with the decision of choosing between mineral or chemical sunscreen. Both provide broad spectrum protection (protect against UVA and UVB rays), but each has unique pros and cons. It’s important to understand the difference so that you can choose which one is best for you, your skin and aligns most-closely with your values.
What is chemical sunscreen?
Chemical sunscreens work by allowing UV light into the skin. Once the light is absorbed into the skin, the chemicals in the sunscreen—most notably: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate—create a chemical reaction in which the UV light is converted to heat. That heat then dissipates from the skin. Chemical sunscreen is quick and easy to apply, but you'll need to wait up to 30 minutes before heading outside to allow it to fully absorb. And while it's lighter and sheerer upon application, chemical sunscreen may not be suitable for children and sensitive skin types. Some of those ingredients, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, are also known pollutants to the ocean, coral reefs, and marine life. More on that later!
What is mineral sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreens, or the active ingredients in them like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are small particles that sit on the skin’s surface and physically prevent UV rays from penetrating the skin. Because mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and don’t need to absorb into it, there is no need to wait for sun exposure after application. The known drawback of mineral sunscreen is that it can give off a white cast, which can be particularly frustrating for those who have dark complexions. But technology has advanced drastically over the years and more sunscreens are on the market than ever that offer minimal white-cast or residue. Lastly, because mineral sunscreen doesn’t absorb into the skin, you will likely need to apply it more frequently than chemical sunscreen, especially after swimming or sweating.
Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which is safer for people?
Assuming sunscreen is used properly, meaning you apply it thoroughly every 2 hours or more when swimming and sweating, mineral sunscreen is indeed the safer route for people than chemical sunscreen.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified at least 8 substances used in chemical sunscreens that pose significant health concerns. The most common among them are homosalate, avobenzone and oxybenzone. Chemical sunscreens affect the body upon absorption through the skin and can be most consequential for people with sensitive skin or acne-prone skin. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends specifically avoiding chemical sunscreens with oxybenzone because of concerns that this ingredient may disrupt hormones and cause allergic skin reactions.
So if you are concerned about adverse skin reactions or long term health effects of chemical application, you’ll likely want to go the mineral sunscreen route. With that being said, it’s important to seek out mineral sunscreens that are specifically formulated with “non-nano” zinc oxide. Non-nano sized zinc oxide particles are not small enough to penetrate the skin and potentially enter the bloodstream, like the nano-sized particles found in chemical sunscreens typically are.
Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which is safer for the environment?
Mineral sunscreens have been determined to be safer for the environment by the National Ocean Service. Chemical sunscreens often contain ingredients like oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene that are harmful to marine life and coral reefs. The chemicals can be released into the water when you swim or even public waterways when you rinse off in the shower. For these reasons, the National Ocean Service recommends only using mineral sunscreen when you plan to swim in the ocean. Hawaii has even gone as far as banning the sale and distribution of all chemical sunscreens in an effort to protect the environment. Both Blocked and Save Face are compliant with Hawaii Reef-Safe standards.
The team at Miami Beach Bum is passionate about providing high quality sun protection that is chemical-free and safe for all people as well as the environment. That’s why our founder developed 100% zinc-oxide mineral SPF 30 sunscreen for the face—Save Face and for the body—Blocked. Both are non-comedogenic, offer minimal white-cast, and are certified reef-safe.
While we strongly encourage the use of mineral sunscreen over chemical sunscreen, we firmly believe that any sun protection is better than no sun protection, so find something that you love and use it every single day!