sunblock and legs

Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreens: Do Ingredients Matter?

It’s a well known fact that too much sun exposure can be damaging to the skin. To counter the sun’s negative effects, dermatologists strongly advise that we cover exposed skin with some sort of SPF, which stands for Sun Protection Factor, when we’re headed out to enjoy some sun.

New research is questioning the ingredients used in the sunscreens we spend all summer slathering on our skin. Do the same ingredients that protect us from the sun also cause negative effects in our bodies? Are there safer options when it comes to sun protection?

Generally, there are two types of sunscreen:  Chemical – which, by definition means that the ingredients create a chemical barrier to the sun; and mineral, which traditionally creates a physical barrier on the skin.  One of the latest debates is due to the growing popularity of mineral sunscreen.

Mineral sunscreen is a “physical” sunscreen meaning it’s SPF factor comes from tiny ground up minerals that physically block the sun. Two of the most commonly used ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. One positive factor about these sunscreens being “physical” instead of “chemical” like most classic sunscreens is that they are effective immediately after application. Most classic sunscreens contain protective chemicals that take up to 30 minutes to absorb into the skin. This is why most classic sunscreens include a warning instructing the user to apply 30 minutes before they will experience sun exposure.

Another positive factor about mineral sunscreens is that the ingredients don’t decompose through sun exposure. Some chemical ingredients found in classic sunscreen actually break down when exposed to sun which is why these sunscreens must be reapplied so frequently.  Chemical sunscreens require more vigilance.

Recently, some common chemicals used in classic sunscreen:  oxybenzone and octinoxate, have come under fire for being linked to negative effects in the body. Using a process of meta-analysis, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that these two very common chemical ingredients can penetrate the skin and cause a variety of hormonal imbalances and reproductive issues. Though these chemicals have been deemed “safe” by the FDA in the past, erring on the side of caution is advisable given the new data.

When a health debate is a hot topic, I often check different sources to gather information. I found that most traditional doctors seemed to believe that any SPF is better than no SPF.  To them, the damage inducing and cancer causing rays of the sun are the true concern. For this reason, they recommend using whichever type that you’re willing to do every single time you’re exposed to the sun.

While some doctors believe that any type of sunscreen is okay, if you’re concerned about using products that are healthful, you might want to opt for a mineral type sunscreen with natural ingredients.

Personally, I will err on the side of caution. There are many different mineral sunscreens available and I’m sure I can find one my daily routine can accommodate. After all, I’m very cautious when it comes to physical health. I’d rather enjoy my sunshine than have any doubts about what I’m putting on my body.