With temperatures in the 90s or higher across much of the U.S., summer is already upon us, which means it’s time to get our sun protective gear in order. While you should already be wearing sunscreen daily anyway, especially on your delicate face to prevent premature aging, summer means spending more time outdoors and more time under the harsh UV rays of the sun.
But even if you choose to use mineral sunscreen as part of your summer skin care routine, which most natural health advocates consider “safe” – you could still be causing skin irritations and other unwanted side effects. Keep reading to find out more about what’s really in your “natural” sunscreen.
The Reality of Sunscreen Ingredients
You may already know that many commercial, name-brand sunscreens available in grocery stores contain harsh chemical fillers and potentially toxic ingredients that are not safe for long-term use, but did you know that “natural” alternatives may not be as trustworthy as you once thought?
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), sunscreens that are labeled “natural” usually contain at least a few of the following ingredients: avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, oxybenzone, or octinoxate. Most of these ingredients can cause severe skin allergies in people with sensitive skin, or disrupt hormones in the body. Other mineral sunscreen products combine zinc oxide with chemical filters, which is not 100% natural either.
Not all mineral sunscreens are created equal. Here’s what you need to know about the ingredients in these products.
Common Active Ingredients in Natural Sunscreen Products
Oxybenzone – Considered a weak estrogen, moderate anti-androgen; associated with altered birth weight in human studies; relatively high rates of skin allergy. This is considered one of the worst sunscreen ingredients!
Octinoxate – Hormone-like activity; reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies; moderate rates of skin allergy; and higher toxicity concerns.
Homosalate – Disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone.
Octocrylene – Relatively high rates of skin allergy.
Octyl Salicylate (also called Octisalate) – Used to stabilize avobenzone, it has moderate toxicity concerns according to the EWG.
Avobenzone – Known for causing high rates of skin allergy. Unstable in sunshine, must be mixed with stabilizers.
Zinc Oxide – No evidence of hormone disruption. Less than 0.01% skin penetration evident. Generally recognized as safe and effective. Some inhalation concerns.
Titanium Dioxide – No evidence of hormone disruption. Does not penetrate skin. Generally recognized as safe and effective. Some inhalation concerns.
The ingredients listed above are chemical sunscreen ingredients; whereas zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – found commonly in mineral sunscreens – are chemical-free and create physical barriers against UV rays.
Physical Sun Barriers
Among mineral sunscreens, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered generally safe and do not cause skin allergies in most people. They also offer excellent UV protection. Depending on how much coverage you want, try these products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide: Facial Mineral Sunscreen Fragrance Free SPF 20 by Alba Botanica (which contains 8% zinc oxide and 2% titanium dioxide) or Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Fragrance Free SPF 30 by Alba Botanica (which contains 14.5% zinc oxide and 2% titanium dioxide). For babies and young children, try Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 by Derma E (which only contains 20% zinc oxide).
Overall, your safest bet is to use mineral sunscreen products with zinc oxide, even though it turns your skin stark white and is a thick paste that’s not very attractive, but at least you’ll be protecting yourself from the sun and all those nasty free radicals that can cause wrinkles and skin cancer!
Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours, as it may be sweated off by then or washed off by the waves if you’re at the beach.
How do you protect yourself from the sun? Tell us your sunscreen secrets below!
Photo by Alexander Shustov on Unsplash