We all know you should wear sunscreen, but like many people out there we didn’t always realize that there was a large spectrum of ingredients that can protect you from the sun. The types of sunscreen differ not only in their ingredients but also in the way they protect you from the sun, one through a chemical reaction absorbing the sun rays and the latter through a physical mineral barrier that blocks out the dangerous UVA and UVB rays.
Chances are that If you grew up wearing sunscreen, your parents probably were slathering you with a Chemical SPF - it’s estimated that over 80% of sunscreens on the market use a chemical SPF ingredient to block dangerous rays. Chemical sunscreens grew in popularity because they’re effective, absorb quickly and transparently, and they're much cheaper to produce.
Sounds like a winning formula? Unfortunately we’re just starting to learn some of the effects it has on human health and our environment. In 2020, the FDA released findings on chemical SPF ingredients, which are absorbed into the bloodstream at concentrations far greater than the Food and Drug Administration’s safety threshold.
Chemical sunscreens are made with non-natural ingredients and contain chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate (now banned from Hawaii). Chemical sunscreens work by penetrating the top layer of the skin to absorb UV rays.
The ingredients are absorbed into the skin and enter the bloodstream. These sunscreens take about 20-30 minutes to start working and can cause skin irritation and discomfort. Not only have they been found to effect hormonal balances in humans, Chemical sunscreens are dangerous to coral reefs and can affect their growth and development.
On the other side of the spectrum is mineral sunscreen, which is made with natural ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreen aka physical sunscreen sits on top of the skin and forms a protective barrier by reflecting harmful UV rays before they make contact with the skin's surface. They are non-irritating and great for skin sensitivities (including acne and rosacea). They are effective as soon as they are applied. Mineral sunscreens also help protect the environment, specifically help slow the degradation of coral reefs.
It is important to wear an SPF, and as a consumers it's our responsibility to start understanding and questioning the ingredients instead of trusting the bottle blindly! Mineral and Chemical, there is a big difference!