Guide to Mineral & Organic Sunscreens: What Are They & Why Are They Safer
Why We Need Sun Protection
The sun emits different types of ultraviolet rays. The ones to be concerned about, in terms of the damage that they cause to the skin, are UVA and UVB rays.
UVAs are the ones that reach our skin all year long, no matter the weather, because they can even penetrate clouds. These are the rays that cause damage to the deepest layers of our skin (the dermis) and cause photo-aging. They destroy collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkling and sagging.
UVBs are the rays that damage the most superficial layer of our skin. They cause the reddening of our skin (the sun-tan/sun-burnt look). “Tan” is basically a nice way to describe a sunburn—there goes the myth of a “healthy” looking tan!
A quick way to remember the difference between the two types of rays is to think of A = aging, and B = burning.
How We Can Prevent Sun Damage
Besides not exposing our skin to the sun by covering up with appropriate items, like a large-brimmed hat and protective clothing, the best way to prevent sun damage is wearing a sunscreen product. This is especially important between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the UV rays are the strongest. However, keep in mind that the type of sunscreen, the amount applied, and proper reapplication can make a significant difference in its effectiveness.
Types of Sunscreen
A mineral sunscreen, also called a physical sunscreen or sunblock, is a product that uses a mineral active ingredient—zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or a combination of the two. Mineral sunscreens work by deflecting UV rays—they create a physical barrier, (hence the name physical), that blocks the UV rays (hence the name sunblock), which prevent the rays from penetrating into the skin and causing damage.
Chemical sunscreens (also called organic sunscreens, due to the organic (carbon-based) compounds that work as active, filtering ingredients) work by absorbing the UV rays, converting them into heat and then releasing them. Chemical sunscreens have raised some concerns in light of the potential harmful effects that they may have on our bodies and, more specifically, on our skin.
Health concerns caused by chemical sunscreens are a controversial subject due to the lack of conclusive research. The evidence available suggests that certain chemical active ingredients, particularly oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate and octinoxate, may cause hormonal disruption and could also be neurotoxic.
Skin concerns include irritation (especially in delicate skin types), sensitization, and allergic reactions. They may sting/burn upon application, and worsen inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea and acne due to the heat caused by the active ingredients absorbing the UV rays. This is why if you do suffer from acne or rosacea, a mineral sunscreen may be the best option for you.
Chemical active ingredients are also:
- Less stable in the sun, which could lead to free radical formation, and cause photo-aging—the very thing we try to prevent by applying high quality, antioxidant-rich skincare products on our face;
- Not nearly as effective as mineral sunscreens against UVA rays, which is why they are often combined with mineral active ingredients in chemical sunscreen products.
Environmental Impact of Chemical Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens have not only raised health concerns, but they are also considered a threat to the environment. Hawaii has recently passed a bill that bans octinoxate and oxybenzone, two common chemical active ingredients found in many sunscreen products. These are known to pollute the waters and impact the ecosystems; harming marine organisms. A special concern was voiced over the coral reefs, which are believed to be bleached by these chemicals, leading to the corals’ death. According to the bill, fish, sea urchins, and shrimp are also affected.
At The Detox Market, all sunscreen products are mineral-based, so you don’t have to worry about all the potential issues caused by chemical filters. Mineral sunscreens are also more stable and effective, offering full-spectrum protections, making it a safer option for the environment and all of us.
Nanotechnology in Mineral Sunscreens
The only concern expressed about mineral sunscreens is presented by the size of the mineral particles. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the two common active ingredients found in mineral formulas, have poor particle dispersion, which causes mineral sunscreen to look white on the skin and be challenging to spread evenly. Thankfully, the newest mineral sunscreen formulas contain micronized particles, which are easier to apply and do not look nearly as chalky as they used to years ago. The problem with micronized particles is that the smaller they are, the higher the chance that the may penetrate the skin. For that reason, it is important to look for reputable brands that do not use nano-sized mineral particles, which are small enough to potentially cause health issues, especially in powder and spray sunscreens, because they could be inhaled. The Detox Market does not allow nanoparticles.
Broad-Spectrum and Sun Protection Factor (SPF) Ratings
The two most important things to look for in a sunscreen are the broad-spectrum label and SPF rating:
- Broad-spectrum means that the product has passed an FDA-regulated test that proves that the product is effective against both UVA and UVB rays. When a sunscreen is not labeled as broad-spectrum it may offer protection only against UVBs. The best and most effective broad-spectrum active ingredient in mineral sunscreens is zinc oxide, followed by titanium dioxide.
- SPF (sun protection factor), measures a sunscreen’s ability to prevent sun damage from UVB rays. The simplest way to explain the most up-to-date SPF ratings are below:
- SPF 15 filters about 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 filters 97%
- SPF 50 filters 98%
- Sunscreens with SPF above 50 do not offer significantly more protection than SPF 50 (about 98.5 %)
- Here is another way to explain SPF ratings: If it takes 10 minutes for your skin to burn in the sun, with an SPF 15 sunscreen it will take 15 times longer for your skin to burn (so 10 x 15 = 150 minutes), and with an SPF 30 sunscreen it will take 30 times longer, etc. That being said, no matter what the SPF rating of a sunscreen is, it should be re-applied throughout the day, as often as indicated on the product label, which is typically every two hours.
How Much Sunscreen To Apply
It is thought that most people do not wear nearly as much sunscreen as they should for optimal protection. Most individuals (amount varies depending on the size of your body) need approximately 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover your entire body, and a nickel-sized amount for your face and neck.
Once you have applied the proper amount of product over your skin using a pressing motion, make sure that it has “settled” before you apply any makeup on top. If you apply sunscreen and then immediately apply foundation on top and blend it vigorously with a brush or your fingers, you can remove the sunscreen from your skin and lose the sun-protective benefits.
Reapplication: Two hours from application, sunscreens lose their effectiveness. If you are still exposed to sun rays at the two-hour mark, make sure to promptly re-apply as recommended by the product manufacturer. Make sure to also reapply if you sweat or swim, as recommended on the sunscreen label. Most sunscreens are not water-resistant, or are water-resistant for a limited time.
My Sunscreen Picks
Finding the perfect mineral sunscreen for the face can be a challenge. After trying many products, I have picked my favorite ones.
Face Sunscreens That Work Well Under Makeup/Primers With Sun Protection
Normal, combo, or oily skin
Hynt Beauty Sun Prep SPF 25. I call it the sunscreen for people who hate sunscreen because this formula feels and looks more like a moisturizer than a sunscreen. It is hydrating, non-greasy, and goes on completely clear. It makes the perfect base under makeup for normal to oily complexions.
Dry and dehydrated skin
Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen and Primer SPF 30. If your skin is dry/dehydrated, this primer provides hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and cucumber to soothe and hydrate dehydrated skin, jojoba and sunflower oils to keep dry skin moisturized, as well as photo-protective green tea.
All skin types
Josh Rosebrook Nutrient Day Cream SPF 30 is a lightweight moisturizer that provides optimal sun protection. It has a comfortable texture that feels emollient, but not heavy.
Face Sunscreens That Look Good on Their Own/Tinted Face Sunscreen
Suntegrity 5-in-1 Tinted Sunscreen SPF 30. This tinted sunscreen is a great option for dry and dehydrated skin. It has a similar formula to the Suntegrity Face Sunscreen and Primer, but provides light coverage and a beautiful radiant finish.
Normal to oily skin
W3LL People Bio Tint Multi Action Moisturizer SPF 30. This tinted moisturizer has a very comfortable, luminous but non-greasy finish, and provides light-to-medium coverage. The shade range is limited, however, if you find a shade that matches your skin tone it is a great multi-tasking product, working as a moisturizer, sheer foundation and sun-protection at the same time.
Face Sunscreen for Beach/Pool/Outdoor Activities
All skin types
Coola Sport Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50. While most sunscreen products tend to melt off my skin with water or sweat, this stick stays put for a very long time, which makes it the ideal companion for a day at the beach, pool, or outdoor workouts. It is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. The stick format is also very convenient for traveling because it takes up very little space. If you have medium skin tone with a golden undertone, try the tinted version. It gives a beautiful golden tint that makes the skin look luminous.
Sunscreen for the Body
All skin types
Suntegrity Body Sunscreen (Unscented) SPF 30. This is the body sunscreen I have been using for years. It is effective, moisturizing, and it is unscented, which is very important for someone with delicate skin like mine. I share this with my family on beach days, and no one has ever gotten a sunburn while using it. If you enjoy a delicate scent, and your skin is not sensitive to fragrance, there is also a scented version, which smells like citrus fruit.
Sunscreen for the Lips
Lip sunburns are more common than you might think, and they can cause significant discomfort. Although lip sunscreen is the only sunscreen that I don’t wear on a daily basis, when I spend time outdoors or at the beach I use the Ilia Tinted Lip Conditioner SPF 15. It is a very comfortable, moisturizing, and soothing formula that provides a sheer tint. It comes in several fun colors, with my favorite being Kokomo, an easy-to-wear mauve.
Also check out our best natural sunscreens guide.