Make the switch to mineral.
Given the choice, I ALWAYS use a mineral sunscreen instead of a chemical one. That means I look for products that contain zinc oxide, or a combination of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Yes, even though they’re hard to find—and even harder to formulate well. Mineral SPF has a bad rep for giving a white cast to the skin (although that’s not an issue with Coco Bee products), and there’s also that whole nanoparticle thing to worry about. I get the issues about minerals, I really do. But even so—I still think that mineral filters (a.k.a. physical sunblocks) are a better choice than chemical (also confusingly called “organic”) sunscreens.
The most common chemical SPF ingredients include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate, usually found in combination. And there are some very legit reasons for avoiding them.
Here’s why you might want to make the switch from chemical to mineral sunscreen:
1. CHEMICAL SUNSCREEN ABSORBS INTO YOUR BLOODSTREAM.
Mineral sunscreen is the safest because it acts like a physical block. It sits on top of your skin, and works by reflecting away the sunlight.
Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, actually penetrates right into your bloodstream. It works by absorbing the UV rays and converting them into heat that is released through the skin. But did you know that chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone could linger in our bodies for five days after a single application? It has been detected in breast milk, blood and urine. A study found it in the urine of 96 percent of 6 to 8 year old girls.
I don’t know about you, but if I have the choice, I’d much rather avoid products that enter and stay in my body. Plus, these researchers discovered something else: chemical sunscreen ingredients can act as penetration enhancers; helping any other chemicals you use to enter the skin.
2. CHEMICAL SUNSCREEN IS LINKED TO HORMONE DISRUPTION.
One of the biggest concerns with chemical sunscreen is that it might mimic, block or alter hormone levels—also known as endocrine disruption. Although there is no definitive answers YET, researchers found that oxybenzone, homosalate and octinoxate affected thyroid and reproductive hormones in multiple animal and cell studies. This year, an Endocrine Society study reported evidence that eight chemical sunscreen ingredients interfere with human sperm cell function. So it’s not a stretch to conclude that chemical SPF could be affecting our fertility.
There is no evidence for any hormone-disrupting effects from using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
3. CHEMICAL SUNSCREEN CAN CAUSE CELL DAMAGE.
Another problem with chemical sunscreen is that it’s linked to oxidative damage, thanks to inadequate protection from UVA rays. No doubt you’ve heard the words “free radicals” before, and know they’re enemy number one in terms of skin aging. But what does that term really mean? It refers to highly reactive oxygen molecules—chemical byproducts that are generated from exposure to environmental factors such as smoking, pollution, and (you guessed it!) UV radiation. Free radicals encourage premature aging by attacking cell structures and degrading collagen and elastin fibers.
Because some sunscreen chemicals are not very photo stable, they can amplify free radical production, releasing these harmful by products when they absorb UVA energy. In fact, this study found that some chemical filters might cause more free radicals to form than no sunscreen at all!
What’s even more disturbing is that chemical sunscreen could cause gene mutations. Several studies have found that certain SPF ingredients generate DNA damage in human skin cells upon UV exposure. That means potential carcinogenicity.
To suppress this cascade of free radical formation, you need a sunscreen with strong UVA filters. Zinc oxide is the best option because it offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Check out this table, via the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to see how the ingredients compare:
4. CHEMICAL SUNSCREEN MAY TRIGGER SKIN REACTIONS AND ACNE.
If you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergies, mineral sunscreen is definitely the way to go. Chemical sunscreens are much more likely to trigger contact dermatitis; the symptoms can include rashes, itchiness, blisters and swelling. Oxybenzone is the worst culprit, but avobenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene are known to cause allergic skin reactions, too.
There are no cases of skin allergy from zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
If you’re acne-prone, mineral filters are also best, because they’re less comedogenic (pore-clogging) than chemical ingredients. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can even be slightly drying on the skin, making them ideal for normal to oily types—or anyone who wants to avoid a greasy feel.
5. CHEMICAL SUNSCREEN DOESN’T PROTECT YOU RIGHT AWAY, AND NEEDS FREQUENT RE-APPLICATION.
Remember how I said that mineral sunscreen sits on top of your skin, whereas chemical sunscreen must be absorbed? Well, that means the minerals will start protecting you from the sun immediately, as soon as you apply them. With chemical SPF, you need to wait about 20 minutes before you’re considered protected.
Many chemical sunscreens are also unstable, so they don’t work for very long. They start to break down quickly in the sun, losing their effectiveness—which is why dermatologists are so adamant that we re-apply them often.
In contrast, mineral sunscreen lasts longer, provided you’re not getting wet or excessively sweaty (which might make it wear off). Every two hours is the “golden rule” for sunscreen re-application, but if you did a thorough application of mineral sunscreen in the morning and then spent most of the day indoors, then you’re probably still adequately protected. However, to be on the safe side, I would still re-apply mineral SPF when outdoors for long periods of time.