“Safe sunscreen” may seem like a given since applying sun protection is the safest thing we can do for our skin. Or, is it?
Chemical sunscreens actually contain some of the most toxic ingredients in the beauty industry. Two of the most common, Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, were banned in Hawaii last year for killing coral reefs. If a chemical is harmful enough to kill coral, even when diluted by a literal ocean of water, we should probably think twice about putting it on our skin.
Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen
First, any product that rubs in instantly and invisibly is probably the worst for you and for the environment. That means chemical formulas are out, and mineral sunscreen (aka physical) is in.
- Chemical Sunscreen: Absorbs into the skin and then absorbs UV rays, converts the rays into heat, and releases them from the body. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone.
- Physical/Mineral Sunscreen: Sits on top of the skin and reflects the sun’s rays. The minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the main active ingredients in physical blocks (1).
What’s the Difference?
Mineral formulas are generally thicker and take longer to absorb. They work by deflecting the sun’s rays off your skin, rather than absorbing them like chemical sunscreens do.
Plus, they don’t degrade in the sunlight like chemical blocks that absorb and degrade quickly. This is why it’s common to have to reapply chemical sunscreens every couple of hours. Mineral formulas are also safe for ocean coral!
Mineral sunscreens are more soothing to your skin than the chemical formulas, which often contain skin irritants. Those skin irritating ingredients will also accelerate the skin-aging process!
Pro tip: If you really can’t stand the extra time it takes to rub in mineral blocks (moms, we hear you), some brands now offer mineral sunscreen in non-aerosol mist spray cans. These sprays are perfectly safe. Instead of the propellant chemicals used in aerosol cans, they use only compressed air.
What About SPF?
Now that we’ve established that all sunscreens are not created equal, here’s another blow: high-SPF products only offer marginally better protection against the sun. For example, properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98% of UVB (burning) rays, while SPF 100 blocks 99%. And sadly, nothing blocks 100%.
The good news is that sunscreen with SPF 30-50 will offer adequate sunburn protection for most people.
The bad news?
SPF ratings only pertain to UVB (burning) rays, not UVA (aging) rays. This mean means that high-SPF products suppress sunburn more effectively than other types of sun damage.
So, while beachgoers using high-SPF may think they’re fully protected, they are probably still absorbing UVA radiation, which is incredibly damaging to the skin.
I’m staying inside forever!
Don’t be dramatic! The answer is broad spectrum sunscreen, which is formulated to protect against damage from the entire UV spectrum.
Coola Suncare Mineral Face SPF 30 – Our favorite lightweight board spectrum face sunscreen. Also comes in SPF 50 sports sunscreen spray.
Sun Bum Original Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30 Lotion – Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB – Water Resistant & Non-Greasy Protection, Hypoallergenic, Paraben Free, Gluten Free – Our favorite full body broad spectrum sunblock. Also comes in moisturizing spray.
Just the Basics
Ingredient spotlight: Look for zinc oxide, which is a mineral filter that will give you the most effective full-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.
Wearing broad-spectrum protection every day, even when it’s cloudy or when spending most of the day indoors, is the best way to avoid the marks of premature aging (fine lines, wrinkles, and sun spots) and protect against some types of skin cancer.
Bottomline, if you only apply one thing before you leave the house, make it a broad spectrum mineral sunscreen. Your eighty-year old self (who doesn’t look a day over sixty) will thank you!