The sun is hot and bright and it is also the primary disseminator of UV rays, some of which can be harmful to one’s skin. Because of this, sunscreen is a common way to protect one’s skin, and that of their children. However, what some may not know is that some sunscreens contain ingredients that can be harmful, as well.
There are basically two types of sunscreen chemical and mineral. You can usually tell which is which by looking at the list of ingredients. Look at the active ingredients. If it says zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, then it is a mineral sunscreen. If the active ingredients end in ate, one, or ene, then it is a chemical sunscreen. Some common ones are Octisalate, Avobenzone, and Octocrylene, but there are many others.
Because the skin absorbs the ingredients of sunblocks that are put on it, it is important to be sure that these things will not cause harm. While some of the chemicals have been shown to cause serious issues, such as cancer, increased risk of endometriosis in women, lower testosterone levels in adolescent men, and such, they are allowed in the sunscreens because they were already there before these issues were noted and before these potential effects were discovered.
Mineral sunscreens, however, contain minerals that are useful in the body and not harmful, which is actually moot because they are not absorbed. Because of this, they work as a barrier that reflects sunlight away from the skin. Therefore, they are not as likely to be irritating to sensitive skin and they will not harm the skin. It is possible that a residue could remain after washing it off, due to how it sits on top of the skin, but this is not harmful.
Be sure to look at ingredient lists, however, since some chemical sunscreens may add minerals as well in order to put that on the label. Adding minerals to a chemical sunscreen does not make it a mineral sunscreen.
Zinc oxide the main ingredient in mineral sunscreens is a broad UV blocker, which means it blocks both UVA (the ones that cause the skin to appear aged) and UVB (the ones that cause sunburn). Most chemical sunscreens only block UVB.
To find a mineral sunscreen that is both protective enough and good for your skin, check the ingredients for certain levels (or lack thereof) of certain ingredients, as follows:
- Zinc oxide – a high level of this is best. By itself, there should be at least 20%, and mixed with titanium dioxide (7.5% or more) it can be 15% or more. If it is mixed with encapsulated octinoxate, it can also be as low as 15%. Yes, octinoxate is a chemical, but when it is encapsulated, it acts like a mineral, so it is safe to use.
- PUFA – polyunsaturated fatty acids should be very low or not there at all. These oxidize in ultraviolet light and can cause damage to the cells. When ingredients are arranged by weight (as they are in most items), this should not be listed in the first five.
- Silicones – can cause congestion and dehydration of the skin, so it is better to avoid them.
- Fragrance – those with sensitive skin should find a sunblock that does not contain fragrance, as many of them can be irritating. If the fragrance is from essential oils, that is less of an issue.
- Non-whitening – because zinc oxide is bright white, even after it is rubbed in, it can lighten skin several tones. If your skin is medium to dark, you may want to consider a tinted version.
- Water resistant – if you are going to be swimming or expect to be quite sweaty, this is something to look for. However, it may be best to try it, since the test to determine water resistance is expensive so many companies choose not to do it.
- Reef safe – if you will be in the ocean, it is good to know that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are not harmful to coral reefs. The encapsulated octinoxate, however, is, so if you are headed to the ocean, you may want to rule that one out.
Sunscreens That Meet These Criteria
This sunscreen is cruelty-free (not tested on animals), as well as the criteria above. It is made with sustainable practices and is biodegradable. It is vegan and hypoallergenic.
This item comes in tinted or untinted. The tinted has a slight rose tint. If your skin tends to be dry, you may want to apply moisturizer before applying this sunscreen.
This water-resistant formula from Aveeno is made for sensitive skin. It is water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Two convenient formulas make this sunscreen easy to include in your beach gear. The fluid is available in both tinted and untinted, and all are water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
This mist spray comes in tinted and untinted. It contains a slightly lower percentage of zinc oxide (only 14.5%) but it is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. It does have a limited shelf life due to the inclusion of sunflower oil.
Water resistant and non-tinted, this offering from a popular brand is a fresh mineral version of the sunscreen for which they are well known.
Unlike most of these, this one disappears on the skin. It is slightly oily but has 25% zinc oxide. If your skin tends to be oily, there is a matte version available.
Broad spectrum and water resistant, this sunscreen received EWG’s highest rating. It is vegan, hypoallergenic, and cruelty-free.
A spray-on broad-spectrum sunscreen, this slightly tinted formula can be worn under makeup, and includes a moisturizer.
Oil-free and non-tinted, this popular brand’s mineral sunscreen is water resistant up to 80 minutes.
Broad spectrum water resistant sunscreen spray that is cruelty-free, vegan, and hypoallergenic.
This is not a comprehensive list; there are many more mineral sunscreens available that fit the criteria listed above, but these are some excellent choices to get you started and keep your skin protected while swimming at the beach, hiking, or playing in the sunshine no matter what season it is.