What’s The Difference Between Mineral And Chemical Sunscreen?
As summer at the Jersey Shore quickly approaches, there is no better time to discuss sunscreen. Did you know that only 53% of Americans say that they sometimes wear sunscreen? While sunscreen should be worn all year long, its usage definitely gets increased in the summer months. Sunscreen is a protective lotion or spray that reflects away the UVA and UVB rays that come from the sun. Think of sunscreen like a barrier that protects your skin from the harmful rays that the sun projects down. Without sunscreen, our skin would absorb these harmful UVA and UVB rays and potentially lead to the development of some skin cancers, including melanomas and basal cell carcinomas.
Consistently wearing sunscreen is important for many reasons and we’ve done past blogs about them, but have you ever wondered what the difference is between chemical and mineral sunscreens? In this week’s blog we are going to discuss the most common sunscreens that are used, how they work, what ingredients are in them, and how they affect our body and environment.
There are two main types of sunscreen, mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreen is the type of sunscreen that acts as a shield to your skin. It projects away the sun’s harmful rays and keeps them from being absorbed by your skin. One of the most common mineral sunscreens that we see uses zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as a base. Traditionally this is the sunscreen where the person is coated in a thick white paste. As technology advances, we now can get the same benefits of this mineral without having that white cast on the skin.
In order to make the zinc oxide translucent, it has to be broken done into nanoparticles and that process has raised some concern over the years. There has been concern that nanoparticles absorbed by the skin cause cellular toxicity but studies show the absorption rate is low. While absorption rate appears low for most, it may be dangerous when inhaled. Particles in the lungs are harder to get out than the bloodstream so avoiding spraying and applying any mineral sunscreen where you can inhale it.
In contrast to mineral sunscreens, we have chemical ones. Chemical sunscreens contains active ingredients, like avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone, that are absorbed into the skin and prevent damage from the sun by inactivating UVA and UVB rays. Instead of acting like a shield, like in mineral sunscreens, chemical sunscreens act like a sponge absorbing the sun’s rays before it penetrates the skin. Because of this, when you apply chemical sunscreen it takes about 15-30 minutes to fully be absorbed into the skin. Therefore you need to wait before exposing your skin to sunlight.
Chemical sunscreens are typically more affordable than mineral types. Chemicals are cheaper to make than minerals but try not to let cost dictate which sunscreen you’ll grab off the shelf. Remember that our skin is our largest organ and everything we put on it has to be filtered out by our kidneys. Because of harmful ingredients in skincare, not only may the kidneys be affected, but some ingredients are known carcinogens (cancer causing), hormone disruptions, and allergens. Unfortunately these ingredients are allowed because the skincare industry doesn’t have a lot of regulation—yet. Luckily there are some companies and non-profits trying to change the laws to ban harmful chemicals in skincare and cosmetics.
So what one is safe to use? Generally sunscreens made with mineral active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safe and get a good score with the Environmental Working Group, EWG. What is the EWG? They are a great resource for healthy products and their mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. In fact, they are a non-profit that started in 1993 to help track chemicals used by companies. They have set a new standard because when you see that something is EWG verified, that product has full transparency, has avoided containing any ingredients on their “unacceptable” list, and uses good manufacturing practices. You can feel good about using products EWG verified for you and your loved ones. For more information, check out www.ewg.org.
There also has been concern over sunscreen affecting coral reefs. As mentioned above, chemical sunscreens use an ingredient called oxybenzone. It is a known fact that this chemical damages coral reefs and since 6000 tons of sunscreen washes through US reefs every year, some Islands have banned sunscreens with this ingredient in it. Sadly, oxybenzone may not be with the chemical harmful to marine life. More research needs to be done to learn more.
We hope this helped clear up any questions you may have had about mineral and chemical sunscreens. While mineral sunscreen may be a little more expensive, it is not only better for you but the environment too! Make sure you re-apply after prolonged swimming and sun exposure.