The Difference Between Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens
Written by Dr. Lubitz
The Perfect Sunscreen
Lining the shelves are dozens of products for sunscreen and sunblock, 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 difference between these sunscreens, what we found may shock you.
Chemical Sunscreens (nano-sized minerals)
Commonly these are spray-on sunscreens, they absorb the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Note the word “absorb”, there are concerns that nanoparticles in these sunscreens are so small they can be absorbed into the skin. This is an issue because they are no longer on the surface of the skin to protect you and now you have mineral deposits in your body that you may not be able to excrete. Chemical sunscreens use only non-mineral, or chemical, active ingredients such as oxybenzone, oxtinoxate, and octisalate.
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, as well as allergic reactions.
An analysis of sunscreens by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed that chemical sunscreens can penetrate the bloodstream and present health hazards. The EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone.
Mineral Sunscreens (micronized minerals)
The term ‘chemical-free sunscreens’ list the minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their only active ingredients. These minerals create a physical barrier on the skin, blocking both UVA rays (those that cause wrinkles and skin cancer) and UVB rays (those responsible for sunburn). They are a white chalky hue, think of the white-nosed lifeguard, and are commonly available as a lotion.
Mineral active ingredients don’t break down as readily in the sun, offering greater protection for longer. It’s also worth noting that organic sunscreens are mineral- just 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 2017 from the Australian TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) also concluded the 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 concluded zinc stayed on the skin’s surface as was not absorbed.
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 and if they’ve missed a spot.
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 to avoid a white tint on their skin. However, it’s best to avoid titanium dioxide (found in mineral sunscreen) in 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. Since labeling regulations of nanoparticles don’t exist yet, ask manufacturers directly about their policies.
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:
TiZO by Fallene Solar Protection Formula SPF 50+
LipTect SPF 45
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