When you walk into a store to buy sunscreen, you see shelves upon shelves of different brands, SPF’s, and adult/kid/baby geared products. Sometimes what’s on sale is what’s bought, but often you get what you pay for. Cheaper sunscreens are going to be full of chemicals and ingredients that do more harm than good (the same goes for food, drinks, supplements etc.). I’m going to explain the difference between chemical and mineral based sunscreens and what to look for when buying them.
Not all sunscreens are going to be created equal. Most (not all) do more harm than good. This is a billion dollar a year industry, so these creators, companies and manufactures don’t always have our best interest in mind. It’s unfortunate but you always need to look out for yourself and your health and can’t trust every single brand and company out there. Money is a powerful tool.
Sunscreens protect two ways; with a chemical or a mineral barrier
Some of the common and most used chemicals in sunscreens are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, homosalate and more. These chemicals can often cross the skin and get into body tissues.
The Center of Disease Control Prevention did a study and found oxybenzone (the most commonly used) in 96% of the population tested. This poses a huge issue as this chemical was found to be an endocrine disruptor (by the EWG) that may cause low sperm count and may also contribute to endometriosis in women (along with many other contributing factors, don’t think using sunscreen is going to immediately cause these issues!) We want to use caution with children, pregnant and breastfeeding women as their systems are slightly more compromised at those times in life.
The EWG tested also tested 1,400+ sunscreens and only 5% met their standards with over 40% potentially contributing to skin cancer. I know that’s a scary claim, but let me back it up;
Retinyl palamitate (a vitamin A durative) is often used in sunscreens and has been shown to speed up cancerous cell growth. Most sunscreens also completely block the body’s ability to make vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can cause a whole list of issues but some being a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, disruption of hormones, decreased immunity and increased anxiety/depression.
I know the convenience of spray sunscreens is great. I always liked just being able to spray and go without have to rub on a thick lotion and then have to scrub my hands after. However, with these chemical-based sunscreens these can be quite harmful as we are inhaling the sunscreen (and chemicals) without even knowing it. This is especially important to note for children as spray sunscreens are most widely used on them because it’s easier than trying to keep a kid still for longer than 20 seconds to rub on some lotion when they just want to go play in the water.
A little note on SPF…. most of us think the higher the spf the better the protection. That is incorrect and here’s why;
These products require a higher amount of chemicals for a higher spf. This means more chemicals potentially being absorbed into the body tissue, causing more hormone disruption and potential skin allergy reactions. If studies showed and it was proven that higher spf was more efficient in reducing skin damage and skin cancer, then the extra chemicals could be justified. But there are no studies proving that so choosing a sunscreen with a lower spf (30 instead of 70) and lower concentration of chemicals (active ingredients) is a better choice. There is actually no proof that sunscreen alone prevents most skin cancers.
Consumers often think that if they’re applying a sunscreen with spf 100 that they’re better protected and can therefore stay in the sun longer without reapplying. Wrong. As mentioned above, a higher spf does not mean better protection and you still need to reapply and limit sun exposure.
Now that all the scary (but necessary) stuff is out of the way, here are some alternatives to be safe in the sun and why mineral based sunscreens are a suitable alternative;
Some sunscreens that claim they are mineral based can also still contain some of the chemicals mentioned above which is why we need to read ingredients carefully. If you see nano zinc oxide or titanium oxide, these can still pass through the skin. We need to make sure it says non-nano zinc oxide. This will not pass through the skin but is still effective in sun protection.
We talk a lot about sun protection from the outside but not from the inside. There are ways you can protect your skin from the inside out. Like keeping inflammation low and reducing foods that increase inflammation such as;
- Excess and refined sugar
- Processed vegetable oils
- Processed grains
- Damaged fats
Including nutrients that support healthy skin would be helpful such as vitamin D, vitamin C, antioxidants and omega 3s. Many of these are also great for reducing inflammation.
Take some time to process all this information, I know it’s a lot! But we need to be informed on not only what we’re putting inside our bodies but what we’re putting on the outside as well. I read a quote by The Wellness Mama and she says, “if you can’t eat it, it shouldn’t be put on your skin” and I agree 100%! Our skin is like a sponge and absorbs a lot which can get into our blood stream and tissues and cause many issues. What I want you to take away from this is;
- Choose a mineral based sunscreen that contains non-nano zinc oxide
- Be responsible in the sun! (cover up if you know you’re going to be out for an extended period of time)
- Avoid spray sunscreens (I know it sucks to have to take the extra couple of minutes to rub it on, but your body will thank you)
- Read ingredients carefully (there shouldn’t be a list of 20)
Last but not least…. don’t let this steer you away from being in the sun! We need that vitamin D for many, many body functions. Just know when you’ve had enough and go take a nap in the shade.