Facing The Truth About Sunscreen

Dozens of products for sunscreen and sunblock line the shelves of drugstores and supermarkets everywhere, not to mention the ongoing debate on the safety of using mineral vs chemical sunscreens. Confused? Not to worry, we’ve done our homework and have broken down the differences between these sunscreens; what we found may shock you.

Chemical Sunscreens

Commonly these are spray-on sunscreens and/or ones that are most readily available in stores.  A lot of them absorb the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, transforming UV rays into heat and infrared light.  Because there is an “exchange” that happens with chemical sunscreens they can break down over a 2-3 hour time period, which makes the protective qualities no longer viable.  Chemical sunscreens use only non-mineral, or chemical, active ingredients such as oxybenzone, oxtinoxate, and octisalate.

****Buyer beware: a sunscreen company can put a small amount of minerals in the sunscreen and still promote it as a mineral sunscreen even though the main active ingredients are chemical.

The Problem with Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens have been found to accumulate in body fat and breast milk, and have even been linked to such hormonal disruptions as early onset puberty, low sperm count, and breast cancer. They are also found to be associated with some allergic reactions.

Sunscreens analyzed by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) says chemical sunscreens can penetrate the bloodstream and present health hazards. The EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone.

It has also been shown that some chemical sunscreens oxidize under the sun, which could lead to premature aging. Other studies have shown that it can also endanger coral reefs.

Mineral Sunscreens (micronized minerals)

The term ‘chemical-free sunscreens’ list the minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. These minerals create a physical barrier on the skin, reflecting off both UVA rays (those that cause wrinkles and skin cancer) and UVB rays (those responsible for sunburn). They are a white chalky hue, think: white-nosed lifeguard, and are commonly available as a lotion.  Some mineral sunscreens are now produced with a tint, for women they can be used instead of a BB Cream under a mineral powder. They can help even out the appearance of pigmentation and redness in the skin.

Mineral active ingredients do not break down as readily in the sun, offering greater protection for longer. It’s also worth noting that organic sunscreens are mineral – but with an organic cream base.

Generally speaking, naturally derived ingredients used in mineral sunscreens are gentler on the skin than chemicals.

A study released in January of 2017 from the Australian TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) concluded that zinc does not get absorbed beyond the surface of the skin or the outer dead layer of the skin. A report from the German Federal Health Institute also concluded zinc stayed on the skin’s surface and was not absorbed.

There are now companies that are producing “ultra sheer” or “invisible” mineral sunscreens.  Consumers have to be careful when it comes these types of sunscreens as they are classically nano-sized particles, not micronized. What’s the difference? Nano-sized particles can potentially absorb through the skin into the body.  If these minerals are absorbing into the body they can’t be protecting your skin as they are no longer on the surface.

Spray-on Sunscreen

Spraying on sunblock may be a convenient way to protect you from the sun, but experts warn that inhaling the chemicals could trigger allergies, asthma and other concerns. They also make it difficult for users to tell how much they’ve applied or if they have missed any areas during application.

Spray on sunscreen also has nanoparticles. What are they? A nanoparticle is a piece of material that is so small it has to be measured in nanometers.

Some people are more willing to use mineral sunscreens in order to avoid a white tint on their skin. However, it’s best to avoid titanium dioxide (found in mineral sunscreen) in a powder or spray form; the EWG claims it’s linked to toxicity when inhaled.  In short, invisible or sheer sunscreens are the ones we recommend staying away from. And since labeling regulations of nanoparticles don’t exist yet, if you would like to know more you are encouraged to ask manufacturers directly about their policies.

Fun In The Sun

Mineral sunscreens are more popular than ever. They are effective the moment they are applied, unlike chemical sunscreens which require approximately 30 minutes to become effective after application.

How Much To Apply

Canadian Cancer Society says the average adult needs about 2 or 3 tablespoons of sunscreen to cover their body and a teaspoon to cover their face and neck.

Find these mineral-based sunscreens at Art of Skin:

Solar Protection Formula SPF 50+
LipTect SPF 45
Rubber Ducky Physical Sunscreen
Art of Skin – Owner & Operations Manager

Catherine started her career path in the field of esthetics and quickly discovered that specializing in skin was the most rewarding and ultimately, her passion. As the mother of a cancer survivor, mom of two boys, and a cancer survivor herself, Catherine runs a growing medical aesthetics and dermatology business with her husband.


  • Lynn Widgill says:

    Interesting artical. I am using Neutrogena Ultra Sheer dry touch SPF110 This was recommended to me by Doctor Paul Lubitz when he was at the Canmore hospital. Is it still a recommended sunscreen?

    I look forward to your reply.
    Best regards

  • Helen says:

    Thanks for these tips. Can you please tell me the price of the sunscreen brand you carry?

    Thank you,

  • Jill Arnsdorf says:

    Yes I have been using your Solar Protection for a long
    Time and find it is very good.

  • Audrey Nessler says:

    Thanks for the information–as a consumer it seems that there is so much info out there as to what is good for us!

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