Sunscreens, which can be sprays, lotions, gels or waxes, are usually made up of a mix of chemicals. Inorganic chemicals in sunscreen can reflect or scatter the light away from the skin, and organic (carbon-based) ones can absorb UV rays so that our skin doesn’t.

How it works

Some inorganic chemicals, including minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, act as a physical sunblock. They reflect UV rays, similar to how white paint reflects light. The white-colored noses on beach-goers in the 1980s and 1990s were due to these compounds; because manufacturers make the inorganic particles much smaller now, we don’t see the visible white.

Along with inorganic chemicals, sunscreens often contain organic chemicals, with names such as avobenzone or oxybenzone. Instead of physically deflecting UV light, these molecules absorb UV radiation through their chemical bonds. As the bonds absorb UV radiation, the components of the sunscreen slowly break down and release heat.

The lowdown on SPF

The SPF on sunscreen bottles stands for Sun Protection Factor, and refers to how well the sunscreen protects against one type of UV radiation, called UVB (it may be helpful to think B for burning). UVB rays cause sunburn and several types of skin cancer.

Another type of radiation, called UVA radiation, penetrates deeper into the skin and can cause premature wrinkling, age spots and can also heighten the risk for some skin cancers . Sunscreen lotions labeled broad-spectrum block against both UVA and UVB, but currently there is no standard for listing UVA blocking power. Inorganic chemicals that deflect sunlight will deflect both UVA and UVB rays.

Most organizations recommend using sunscreen with an SPF between 15 and 50 (SPF ratings higher than 50 have not been proven to be more effective than SPF 50). A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 protects against about 93 percent of UVB rays, and one with an SPF of 30 protects against 97 percent of rays, according to the Mayo Clinic. No SPF can block 100 percent of UV rays.

Because some UV radiation still gets through the sunscreen and into your skin, the SPF number refers to roughly how long it will take for a person’s skin to turn red. Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will prevent your skin from getting red for approximately 15 times longer than usual (so if you start to burn in 10 minutes, sunscreen with SPF 15 will prevent burning for about 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours), according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

But because most people don’t use enough sunscreen and because sunscreen tends to rub or wash off, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reapplying sunscreen within two hours regardless of its strength, and using at least an ounce (a shot glass-full) for maximum protection.

Some of the chemicals in sunscreen have recently come under fire for possibly being carcinogenic (cancer-causing) or otherwise harmful, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy group based in Washington D.C. Scientists found that oxybenzone absorbs into the skin and is present in urine long after sunscreen is applied, so some researchers have suggested not using sunscreens containing this chemical on children, according to the EWG report. And in a preliminary study last year, titanium dioxide was shown to cause genetic damage in mice.

In any case, because sunscreen is not an end-all solution, health organizations strongly recommend also using a hat and sunglasses, clothing and shade to protect your skin.

Original article on Live Science.


Zinc Sunscreens – Nanoparticles & Clear Zinc Oxide


In Brief

Zinc oxide is a mineral that sits on top of the skin, scattering, reflecting, and absorbing UVA & UVB rays.

All Badger sunscreens are made with either Non-Nano Zinc Oxide or Clear Zinc Oxide as their only active ingredient.

Although zinc oxide is the safest and most effective active sunscreen ingredient, the best protection from the sun is to seek shade and cover up with clothes and a hat.

Badger sunscreens with this logo contain uncoated non-nano zinc oxide, the same kind of zinc oxide used in calamine lotions and diaper rash creams.

Badger sunscreens with this logo contain clear zinc oxide which has the non-whitening characteristics of nano zinc oxide and the large particle assurance of non-nano zinc oxide.

What is zinc oxide and where does Badger’s come from?

Zinc oxide is the metal zinc that has been oxidized. The chemical formula is ZnO, 1 zinc atom and 1 oxygen atom held together by an ionic bond. Zinc oxide does occur in nature as the mineral zincite, but it is quite rare and commercially unavailable. Badger’s zinc oxide is manufactured using mined zinc which is then purified into pharmaceutical grade zinc oxide.

What is clear zinc oxide sunscreen?

Badger’s ‘clear zinc’ sunscreen products use a specialized zinc oxide powder made of smaller particles that are fused together into larger micron-sized (1000+ nanometers) aggregate particles. These aggregates have a porous surface texture, like a sea sponge, so they don’t reflect as much visible light as standard non-nano zinc oxide particles and are therefore less whitening on the skin. The large particle size of clear zinc oxide give it the same outstanding safety and efficacy of standard non-nano zinc oxide meaning it won’t absorb into your skin, it won’t harm the environment, and it provides excellent UVA and UVB protection. Third party laboratories have confirmed that there are no detectable nanoparticles in our clear zinc sunscreens and they meet the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory’s standard for non-nano. We have, however, chosen not to make the “non-nano” claim on our clear zinc sunscreens following Australia’s definition of non-nano which is more stringent than those of the US or the EU. Read more about Badger’s zinc oxide particle size research with Scanning Electron Microscope Imaging and Light Scatter Analysis below.

Clear zinc oxide is an approved sunscreen UV filter in the US and all major international markets and it is compliant with the natural cosmetic standards of the Natural Products Association (USA) and ECOCERT (EU). After a decade reviewing all the published research and conducting our own independent laboratory analyses on clear zinc oxide we determined that it meets our stringent standards for ingredient safety and efficacy and it is safe for us to use in our sunscreens. Our clear zinc sunscreens have quickly become our most popular sunscreen products and we continue to make more every year. Shop Clear Zinc Sunscreens

What is a nanoparticle and what is non-nano zinc oxide?

A nanoparticle is a particle smaller than 100 nanometers, or 100 billionths of a meter. Defining whether a powder is non-nano or not is actually rather difficult as it is virtually impossible to ensure that a product is 100% nanoparticle free. Furthermore, many particles are not spherical in shape and thus are difficult to measure.

  • The US FDA has declined to weigh in on this controversial issue and does not currently define ‘nano’ or ‘non-nano.’
  • In the EU, a nanomaterial is defined as “a natural, incidental or manufactured material containing particles, in an unbound state or as an aggregate or as an agglomerate and where, for 50% or more of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions is in the size range 1nm – 100nm.”
    • The definition is further explained in that “materials where for 50% or more of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions are in the size range 1nm – 100nm are classified as nanomaterials.”
    • This means that if < 50% of the total particles in the distribution, including aggregates and agglomerates, are within the 1-100nm range in any dimension the particles would be considered non-nano.
  • Australia defines a nanomaterial as an “industrial material intentionally produced, manufactured, or engineered to have unique properties or specific composition at the nanoscale, that is a size range typically between 1nm and 100nm, and is either a nano-object (i.e., that is confined in one, two, or three dimensions at the nanoscale) or is nanostructured (i.e., having an internal or surface structure at the nanoscale).”
    • The definition continues to state that these nanomaterials must exhibit unique unknown properties. Furthermore, if “a material includes 10% or more number of particles that meet the above definition (size, unique properties, intentionally produced),” then this would be considered a nanomaterial.
    • This means that if either of the following are true, the zinc oxide material is considered to be non-nano: a) < 10% of primary particle size is within the 1- 100nm range in any dimension; OR b) < 10% the particles exhibit unique properties

The key element of the Australian definition of nanomaterials is that these particles should display novel characteristics when compared to larger “bulk” particles of the same material. To date, we have not observed any new behavior in the zinc oxide when manufacturing our sunscreens. Badger’s zinc oxide has exhibited the same characteristics as bulk zinc oxide, and so b) is true. According to our SEM micrographs, sedimentation analysis, surface area calculations, and dynamic light scattering studies, our primary particle size is greater than 100nm, so Badger zinc oxide also fulfills the requirement in a) above.

Since the Australian definition of nanomaterials is more stringent than the EU definition (with which we comply), we have decided to adopt Australia’s policies when choosing zinc oxide for our sunscreens. By following these regulations, we can ensure that people around the world can use our sunscreen safely and effectively, and that Badger’s claims are backed up by scientific data collected from independent labs.

How do we measure zinc oxide particle size to determine nano or non-nano?

In addition to obtaining written statements from our zinc oxide manufacturers outlining the particle size ranges, we’ve done some independent research into our zinc oxide particle sizes using the following methods:

Scanning Electron Microcope Images of Sunscreen Zinc Oxides

We took scanning electron microscope (SEM) photographs of Badger’s clear zinc oxide, Badger’s non-nano zinc oxide, and a nano zinc oxide (for comparison). We thought these were pretty cool and wanted to share them with you. Notice that the first image is at lower magnification (with a 10,000 nanometer scale bar) and the other 3 images are more zoomed in (with 500 nanometer scale bars). Note, these photos were taken of the raw zinc oxide powders, not of sunscreen products.

Visual analysis of these SEM images reveals the following:
Clear Zinc Oxide: At low magnification you can see that the product is composed of large aggregates of between about 500 and 9000 nanometers in diameter. The high magnification closeup of one of the aggregates shows smaller nanoparticles fused together into a larger particle. There do not appear to be any loose nanoparticles.
Non-Nano Zinc Oxide: This image shows that the non-nano zinc oxide contains few, if any, particles smaller than 100nm and that most particles appear to be in the 100 to 500nm range. You can also see that some of the particles appear to be stuck together into loosely formed agglomerates.
Nano Zinc Oxide: You can see that this zinc oxide powder is made of a variety of smaller particle sizes, most of which have at least one dimension that is smaller than 100nm, classifying it as ‘nano’. These particles are clumped together into loose agglomerates which easily break apart.

Light Scattering Analysis of Sunscreen Zinc Oxide

We hired a third party independent lab to analyze our clear and non-nano zinc oxide particles sizes via light scatter analysis using an instrument called a ‘Saturn DigiSizer II’. The results do not differentiate between agglomerates/aggregates and free particles, however, they do accurately determine if there are free nano particles in the samples. Looking at the charts below, we expect that the bumps in the larger (right hand) end indicate agglomerates, or the natural sticking together of particles. Because of this we expect that the true particle sizes are somewhat lower than the averages (which include these agglomerates). Note, these data were from our actual sunscreen products, not the raw zinc oxide.
• Clear Zinc Oxide results show a particle size range of 565nm to 19,000nm with an average particle size of 3400nm and no detectable nanoparticles.
• Non-Nano Zinc Oxide results show a particle size range of 200nm to 26,000nm with an average of 1500nm and no detectable nanoparticles.

What is the zinc oxide nanoparticle controversy about anyway?

The nanoparticle controversy stems from the potential health risks caused by nanoparticles if they were to enter the human body. When a substance is so small that it is measured in nanometers (1 to 100 billionths of a meter), the surface area to volume ratio is so great that the actual properties of the substance may change. One comprehensive review of the scientific literature(1) shows that nano-particles of zinc oxide greater than 30nm do not exhibit properties any different than those of larger non-nano sized particles. Science overwhelmingly shows that particles of zinc oxide greater than 30nm, when applied to the skin in a lotion or cream based product, do not get absorbed into the body, do not enter the bloodstream, and are not a threat to human health.(1)(2)(3)(4)(5) There are no studies showing that nanoparticles of zinc oxide can penetrate healthy human skin, whereas chemical sunscreen ingredients, which are molecular in size and thus significantly smaller than nanoparticles, are designed to be absorbed into the skin, and thereby they can get into the blood. The biggest concern with nanoparticles in cosmetics is the threat of inhalation when they are used in powders and sprays. This is not a concern when the zinc oxide is dispersed in a cream or lotion base. Even the Environmental Working Group recommends the use of nano-sized mineral sunscreens over chemical sunscreens.

Additionally there are studies showing that very small nanoparticles (smaller than 35nm) of uncoated zinc oxide and uncoated titanium dioxide can be harmful to the environment by being toxic to marine life. The extremely small size of these particles generates oxidative stress under UV light potentially causing cellular damage to sensitive organisms such as coral or juvenile fish and invertebrates.

Why doesn’t Badger use nano zinc oxide?

Many mineral sunscreens use nano sized zinc oxide because it is less whitening and therefore more aesthetically appealing than larger particle zinc oxide. Even though we believe that nanoparticle zinc oxide is safe and effective (all research has shown that particles in the size range used in sunscreens (>30nm) do not penetrate the skin and are completely safe to use in sunscreen creams and lotions), we’ve chosen to not use nano zinc oxide for a few reasons. Our customers have insisted that they don’t want nanoparticles in our sunscreens. We’ve figured out a method of working with larger particle zinc oxide that allows us to use a minimal amount of zinc oxide making it less whitening than ever. We would rather not use nanoparticles if we don’t need to because of their shorter record of safe use and their potential environmental concerns.

What does uncoated zinc oxide mean?

Many sunscreens use zinc oxide particles that have been coated with an inert substance, usually triethoxycaprylylsilane, to make it easier to mix with the other ingredients and less photo-reactive (see below). At Badger we decided to only use uncoated pharmaceutical grade zinc oxide in our products for the following reasons:

  • Triethoxycaprylylsilane and the other coatings are not in alignment with our ingredient standards.
  • We don’t consider it important to the safety of larger particle non-nano zinc oxide that we use.
  • We developed an effective way to mix uncoated zinc oxide into our sunscreen base.
  • Uncoated zinc oxide has been safely used in topical skin care products such as calamine lotion and diaper rash cream for centuries.

Are there any health risks with zinc oxide?

Zinc oxide, like most powders, can be a health risk if inhaled, but this is not a concern with cream and lotion-based sunscreens. Additionally, zinc oxide can be photo-reactive, meaning that UV rays can generate reactive oxygen species (free radicals) which again is not a concern with sunscreens because it stays on top of the outer dead layer of skin and any free radicals will not affect living cells below.(4). In addition:

  • The rate of reactivity is still very low compared to that of titanium dioxide, nanoparticle zinc oxide, and many other chemical sunscreen actives.(6)
  • Our inactive sunscreen ingredients such as Organic Sunflower Oil, Vitamin E, Seabuckthorn Fruit Extract provide powerful antioxidants which help scavenge, or absorb, free radicals.

How does zinc oxide work as a sunscreen?

Zinc oxide is one of only 17 active ingredients currently approved by the FDA for use in sunscreens. Upon application, zinc oxide particles sit on the outermost layer of your skin, the stratum corneum, where they scatter, absorb, and reflect ultraviolet radiation, protecting your living skin below. Zinc oxide is unique among sunscreen ingredients in that it is truly a broad-spectrum blocker, protecting from UVA, UVB, and even UVC. Titanium dioxide is another mineral active ingredient you may see in other brands’ sunscreens. While it protects from UVB rays very well it does not protect from UVA as well as zinc oxide does.

Why does Badger use zinc oxide as the only active ingredient?

We’ve determined that zinc oxide is the safest, most effective active sunscreen ingredient available. It also stands alone in that it is a truly effective, single-ingredient, broad spectrum blocker, meaning that it protects from UVA, UVB, and even UVC rays. It also has a time tested safety record having been used in other topical drugs such as calamine lotion and diaper cream for a long time.

Why doesn’t every sunscreen just use minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide instead of chemicals?

You generally have to use a lot of zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to get an SPF 30. This makes these mineral sunscreens expensive and whitening, so not everyone likes it. Have you noticed how much less expensive chemical based sunscreens are compared to mineral sunscreens? We feel that peace of mind is worth the additional cost and a little whitening on the skin.

What does Badger think about titanium dioxide?

We think that titanium dioxide is safe and effective for protection against UVB (and some UVA) rays, however, titanium dioxide should always be used in combination with zinc oxide to attain true broad spectrum protection. Truthfully, we think titanium dioxide received an unfair reputation when a 2011 Swiss study(7) likened titanium dioxide to asbestos. The study was referring to toxicity when inhaled, which is not a threat with sunscreen creams. The media did not seem to understand this and wrote alarmist stories about the dangers of sunscreens containing titanium dioxide.

What does Badger think about chemical sunscreens?

We don’t like them. We are concerned about the potential toxic effects of the chemicals when they enter the body. Oxybenzone, for example, is in about 60% of sunscreens sold in the US. The US Center for Disease Control found that 97% of Americans have oxybenzone in their blood(8). This ingredient has been shown to disrupt normal hormone functions and some health professionals are recommending that products containing this ingredient not be used on babies and kids. We are particularly concerned with the ‘continuous spray’ chemical sunscreens that are becoming so popular, mainly because of the risk of inhalation.

Zinc sunscreens are often called ‘chemical free sunscreens’. Isn’t zinc oxide just another chemical?

The term ‘chemical-free sunscreens’ is commonly used to describe ‘physical’ or ‘mineral’ sunscreens, those that use the minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their only active ingredients. Conversely ‘chemical sunscreens’ use only non-mineral, or chemical, active ingredients such as oxybenzone, oxtinoxate, and octisalate.
Some people argue that every substance under the sun is either a chemical or composed of chemicals, therefore nothing can accurately be called ‘chemical-free’. This is technically true, and we’ve stopped using the term ‘chemical free’ to eliminate confusion. Zinc oxide is a mineral that does not dissolve into our sunscreens and does not absorb into your skin and we consider it to be significantly different than the synthetic sunscreen chemicals that only work by absorbing into your skin. ‘Chemical-free sunscreens’ is a commonly used term to describe mineral sunscreens and you will probably still see others using this term to describe our sunscreens.

Wrap Up

Here at Badger we, and most natural health advocates, including Dr. Andrew Weil(9), believe that zinc sunscreens are better for your body than either chemical based sunscreens or exposing your skin to the sun without sunscreen. We follow all of the latest sunscreen research closely, and we remain convinced that our sunscreens at Badger are the most effective and the safest for human health and for the environment (see our page about Sunscreens and Coral Reefs). The best protection from the sun is to stay in the shade or wear protective clothing and a hat. But if you’re going to expose your skin to the sun you should protect it, and a zinc sunscreen is the safest and most effective means to that end.

Badger Zinc Sunscreens

(1) Towards a Definition of Inorganic Nanoparticles from an Environmental, Health and Safety Perspective. Auffan et. al. Nature Nanotechnology Sept. 13, 2009.
(2) Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide
(3) Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (English website)
(4) Australian Government, Review of Scientific Literature
(5) FDAs Nanotechnology Scientific Research Website
(6) Smijs T. & Pavel, S. Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles in Sunscreens: Focus on Their Safety and Effectiveness; Nanotechnology, Science and Applications 2011:4 95–112.
(7) Amir S., Yazdi, et al. Nanoparticles activate the NLR pyrin domain containing 3 (Nlrp3) inflammasome and cause pulmonary inflammation through release of IL-1 and IL-1β PNAS 2010 107: 19449-19454.
(8) Calafat AM, Wong L-Y, Ye X, Reidy JA, Needham LL 2008. Concentrations of the Sunscreen Agent Benzophenone-3 in Residents of the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003–2004. Environ Health Perspect 116:893-897
(9) Dr. Andrew Weil M.D.’s Question and Answer Library

Links to some helpful websites about sun protection.

•The Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide
•Sunscreen: The Burning Facts – Document by the Environmental Protection Agency
•American Academy of Dermatology’s Facts About Sunscreens

Sunscreen reduces the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching your skin. It works by filtering UV radiation with a chemical barrier that absorbs and/or reflects the UV rays away from your skin. No sunscreen provides 100% protection against UV radiation, and some UV radiation will always reach your skin, damaging the cells below. This damage builds up over time and can increase your risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.

What’s in sunscreens
Sunscreen contains chemicals to protect against UV radiation, as well as preservatives, moisturisers and fragrance. There are two types of chemicals in sunscreen:

  • Chemical filters that absorb UV radiation before it can damage the skin.
  • Physical filters that contain micro-fine particles which sit on the surface of the skin and act as a physical barrier.

Sunscreen can contain either chemical or physical filters and many contain both. Chemicals in sunscreen are tested and approved as being safe, and there is no scientific evidence of health side effects from sunscreen.

What are nanoparticles?
A sunscreen that has nanoparticles means that the zinc oxide or titanium oxide particles in the sunscreen have been fragmented into an extremely small size – a nanometre is 0.000001 millimetre in size.

Sunscreen with nanoparticles has become very popular in recent years because the smaller particles make the sunscreen less visible on the skin and easier to apply, and provide good protection from UV radiation. To date there is no evidence that nanoparticles in sunscreen are harmful to health.

What does ‘broad-spectrum’ sunscreen mean?
UV radiation comes in different wavelengths called UVA and UVB. Both UVA and UVB contribute to sunburn, skin ageing, eye damage, melanoma and other skin cancers. A sunscreen that is ‘broad-spectrum’ filters out UVA and UVB radiation.

What do the SPF numbers on sunscreen labels mean?
SPF stands for ‘sun protection factor’. A sunscreen is given an SPF number (of between 4 and 50+) after strict laboratory testing.

The higher the SPF number, the more protection the sunscreen provides against sunburn. However, the length of time it takes any one person to sunburn will be also be affected by many other things, including:

  • UV levels. The higher UV levels are, the more quickly skin damage and sunburn will occur.
  • A person’s skin type. Fair skin will burn more quickly than olive or dark skin.
  • How well sunscreen has been applied. Most people don’t use enough sunscreen to achieve the SPF protection level stated on the label.

How should I apply sunscreen?

  • Read the label and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Apply generously. Most people do not apply enough sunscreen and do not re-apply frequently enough to achieve maximum protection. Cancer Council recommends adults use about a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears; a teaspoon for each arm and leg; and a teaspoon each for the front and back of the body.
  • Apply 20 minutes before going outside, to allow it to bind to your skin, and reapply every two hours, in case it has been wiped or washed off. Reapplying regularly also means you’re more likely to cover any parts of the skin you may have missed.

Can sunscreen cause skin allergies?
Allergic reactions to sunscreen are usually caused by perfumes and/or preservatives in the product, not the chemicals that filter UV radiation. It is recommended to patch test sunscreen on a small area of skin – especially if you have not used the product before. This applies to a new brand you may be trying for the first time and also to different products within a range you may have used in the past.

If you have an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, you should speak to your doctor or chemist about choosing another product. Sunscreens that have titanium dioxide as the main agent are usually suitable for sensitive skin.

Should I use sunscreen on my baby or child?
When UV levels are 3 and above it is recommended that you protect your baby or child from UV radiation with hats and clothing and keep them in the shade. Babies aged under 6 months have highly absorptive skin and the Australasian College of Dermatologist recommends minimising use of sunscreen. Always patch test any product first on a small area of your baby or child’s skin for any negative reactions and apply sunscreen to those areas of exposed skin that can’t be covered with hats and clothing. If your baby or child reacts to sunscreen, seek advice from your doctor or chemist.

Do expensive sunscreens give the best protection?
Any broad-spectrum SPF30+ or higher sunscreen, regardless of cost, will provide good protection if it is:

  • Applied correctly.
  • Purchased in Australia (check the label that the product complies with the Australian Standard AS/NZS 2604:2012 and has an AUSTL number).

Does sunscreen prevent vitamin D production?
Sunscreen filters out most but not all UV radiation. Regular use of sunscreen when the UV Index is 3 or above does not greatly decrease vitamin D levels over time. If you have any concerns about vitamin D, talk to your doctor.

Do ‘natural’ sunscreens work?
A number of sunscreen products are marketed as ‘natural’ or ‘chemical-free’. There is no scientific evidence that ‘natural’ sunscreen products are safer or more effective than sunscreen products that are not promoted as ‘natural’. Always check the label that the product complies with the Australian Standard AS/NZS 2604:2012 and has an AUSTL number.

Is it okay to use sunscreen containing insect repellent?
Some sunscreens contain an insect repellent called DEET. The label should clearly say how much DEET is in the product. When using sunscreen containing DEET, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Speak to your doctor about using sunscreen containing DEET if you’re pregnant or intend using it on young children.

Does sunscreen expire?
Sunscreen must be labelled with an expiry date and storage instructions. Sunscreen won’t work as well if past its use-by date, or stored incorrectly. Store sunscreen out of the sun and at temperatures below 30°C.

Sunscreen is one of the most important steps you can take to maintain the health and beauty of your skin. For anyone under 30, sun protection is the absolute best anti-ageing product you can use. After 30, sunscreen should remain a lifelong habit to slow ageing and prevent sun damage and disease.

There’s a major point of difference in how sunscreens and sunblocks work: either by absorbing or reflecting the sun’s rays. Confused by ‘chemical’ and ‘physical’ sunscreens? You’re not alone. We’ll break down the differences for you so you can decide which is best suited to your needs.

How Does a Physical Sunscreen Protect the Skin?

Physical sunscreens protect the skin in exactly the way their name suggests: they create a physical barrier between your skin and the sun. These products don’t absorb into the skin but remain on the surface. Physical sunscreens are naturally broad-spectrum, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays.

The two most common physical sunscreen ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Picture that classic lifeguard or beachgoer with a thick white paste on their nose—that’s zinc oxide in its cruder form. Luckily, modern zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are micronized to yield a sheerer formula.

Physical sunscreens are generally used in natural sunscreen products and are ideal for sensitive skin, especially children’s skin. Due to the thickness of this type of sunscreen, people with oily and acne-prone need to remove it thoroughly to avoid problems. Otherwise, physical sunscreen is a safe choice.

Great brands to check out if you’re interested in a physical sunscreen are Eco Tan, Ultra Violette, and Colorescience.

How Does a Chemical Sunscreen Protect the Skin?

Unlike physical versions, chemical sunscreens actually penetrate the epidermis and dermis. These chemical compounds function within the skin as well as on the surface to absorb the skin’s rays before they can penetrate the dermis and cause damage.

Chemical sunscreens such as avobenzone and homosalate essentially soak up UVA and UVB rays like a sponge. But a single chemical is generally not enough to protect against both types of harmful rays. Compound formulas are more likely to provide effective broad-spectrum protection.

In addition to multiple active ingredients in a chemical sunscreen, you’ll typically find antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. Antioxidants protect the skin from free radicals, as chemical sunscreens have been shown to make skin more prone to free radical damage.

Find out more about keeping your skin protected from harmful UV rays in our Ultimate Guide to Sunscreen.

These chemicals are generally present in lightweight sunscreens and in cosmetics, as they’re less likely to feel heavy and look chalky. You won’t often find a chemical sunscreen in a natural brand, but some organic or green companies do include chemical sunscreens in certain types of products.

It’s important to note that because chemical sunscreens are often present in combinations of three or four in one product, they’re more likely to cause sensitivity than physical sunscreens.

Some great brand choices for chemical sunscreens are Alpha-H, Dermalogica, and La Roche-Posay.

Now that you know the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens, you’re all set to choose the best one for you.

Discover some of the best sunscreens for babies and young children in our guide Best Sunscreen for Babies, Toddlers, and Kids. If you’re looking for a natural sunscreen, be sure to check out our guide Best Natural Sunscreens for Summer

Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: What’s the Difference?

Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen Ingredients

There are two types of sunscreen ingredients1 that effectively help prevent sunburn: Mineral sunscreen filters (also known as physical sunscreen) and chemical sunscreen filters.

Mineral sunscreen ingredients form a barrier on the surface of the skin that helps reflect UV rays away from the skin. The only FDA-approved mineral sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These physical sunscreen filters are ideal for both daily and prolonged, intense sun exposure because of their broad spectrum protection3 against both UVA and UVB rays. Mineral sunscreen filters are effective for reflecting UV rays when applied as directed, which includes applying a generous amount (one ounce for the entire body) 15 minutes before sun exposure.4,5

On the other hand, chemical sunscreen ingredients penetrate the top layers of the skin to absorb UV rays. These filters absorb damaging UV rays before they can damage the skin. These sun protection ingredients include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Depending on the formulation, chemical sunscreens may be easier to rub into the skin and less likely to leave a white cast. Chemical sunscreen filters should also be applied 15 minutes before sun exposure.4,5

Mineral Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which is right for you?

Any UV protection labeled as “broad spectrum” has been tested and shown to help shield the skin from both UVA and UVB rays, yet different skin types have different needs1. The U.S. FDA has approved both physical/mineral and chemical sunscreen active ingredients, deeming them safe and effective. Talk to your dermatologist before deciding between a physical vs. chemical sunscreen—and be sure to select a product that you can commit to using every day.

The Difference Between Chemical and Physical Sunscreen

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The difference between chemical and physical sunscreens

According to the Cancer Council Australia, skin cancer accounts for 80% of cancers diagnosed each year. That’s why it’s so important to always wear sunscreen to help protect both you and your family from the sun’s UV rays. The Cancer Council urges Australians to wear sunscreen all year round – even on overcast days, UV radiation can be highly dangerous!

There are two types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB. According to research, UVB rays are mainly responsible for sunburn, while UVA rays can penetrate deeper into the skin and cause long term damage. However, with so many choices and different types of sunscreen, knowing which one is right for you can be hard – but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re looking for a sunscreen for your face as a natural anti-ageing product, for your kids to use every day at school or daycare, or just for long days at the beach, here at Nourished Life we have you covered with sunscreens for the whole family.

What is the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens?

When choosing a sunscreen for you and your family, did you know that there are two types available? Both chemical and physical sunscreens are designed to help protect you from UVA and UVB rays, however they work in different ways. Where one contains active ingredient/s to absorb UV radiation, the other works to reflect it. When choosing a sunscreen there are some considerations when it comes to finding the formula right for you.

What is a chemical sunscreen?

According to the Cancer Council, chemical sunscreens contain UV absorbing ingredients to help absorb UV radiation and stop it from penetrating skin. These sunscreens use chemical ingredients to absorb the sun’s UV rays, such as Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor and Butyl Methoxy Dibenzoylmethane. According to Sinead Roberts of WOTNOT, “while chemical sunscreens are great for leaving little to no residue, the synthetic ingredients they contain can result in allergies and irritation.”

According to Choice, the ingredients in chemical sunscreens may cause irritation, allergy or sensitivity, so patch testing is always recommended prior to using any chemical sunscreen. Some types of chemical sunscreen may only protect skin from UVA, others only UVB, and some offer protection against both UVA and UVB. “Broad spectrum” sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays – in Australia, all sunscreens over SPF4 must be broad spectrum.

The long term safety of these sunscreens has often come under fire with concerns of potential health risks. Pete Evans is a well known name that has often spoken out against chemical sunscreens saying, “The silly thing is people put on normal chemical sunscreen then lay out in the sun for hours on end and think that they are safe because they have covered themselves in poisonous chemicals, which is a recipe for disaster as we are witnessing these days.”

What is a physical sunscreen?

Unlike chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens help to protect your skin from the sun by using natural minerals to create a physical barrier (as the name suggests), rather than absorbing rays. These natural alternatives use ingredients such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide to reflect the sun’s UVA and UVB rays – both of these offer broad spectrum protection. According to Choice, physical sunscreens may also be more suitable for those with sensitive skin, and are particularly recommended for children. According to SunSmart, “Sensitive and toddler sunscreens usually use scattering ingredients such as Zinc Oxide and avoid ingredients and preservatives that may cause reactions in young skin.”

Although they are heavier than their chemical based counterparts, more recent physical sunscreen formulations differ from traditional heavy or thick Zinc sunscreen formulations, resulting in a lighter and sheerer finish than the old ‘ghostly’ or ‘pasty’ look. At Nourished Life, we only stock physical sunscreen brands across our SPF 30 natural sunscreen products and across our range of SPF 15 facial moisturisers.

The Cancer Council recommends that sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure to create the intended protective barrier. Physical sunscreen should be applied liberally and evenly to clean and dry skin, ensuring enough is used for adequate protection. For adults, the recommended amount is approximately seven teaspoons to cover the entire body (including arms, legs, the torso and face.) Sunscreen should also be reapplied every two hours at least, even if the sunscreen is ‘water resistant’, as physical exercise can affect how the sunscreen works.

Physical sunscreens to try

Natural Sunscreens for the Face
The Life Basics SPF 30 All Natural Facial Sunscreen $24.95, is great for wearing every day beneath makeup, containing deeply hydrating Green Tea, Rosehip Oil and Calendula to soothe and nourish skin while providing long lasting UVA and UVB protection.

The Eco logical Face Sunscreen SPF 30+ $19.95, can also be worn daily. This gentle sunscreen can be worn in replacement of your regular moisturiser or layered over the top. Containing antioxidant-rich ingredients including Cucumber and Green Tea, this sunscreen hydrates and restores.

Natural Sunscreen for the Body
Ideal for the whole family, UV Natural Sunscreen SPF 30+ $16.95, can be used all year round. This fast absorbing formula uses a combination of nut oils and 24.8% natural Zinc Oxide to protect and nourish your skin.

Natural Sunscreen for Kids
Kids love playing outdoors, so it’s important to keep their precious skin protected! The Eco Logical Baby Sunscreen SPF 30+ $19.95, is specifically formulated for delicate and sensitive baby skin. This water resistant sunscreen is filled with moisturising ingredients including Jojoba, Shea Butter and Avocado.

The WOTNOT Sunscreen SPF 30 $19.95, is also gentle enough for babies and children of all ages. This sunscreen contains soothing Aloe Vera and Shea Butter for a smooth, moisturising consistency, making it nice and easy to apply all over the face and body.

Read more about natural sunscreen options for kids.

Natural Sports sunscreen
The UV Natural Sports Sunscreen 30+ $28.95, is a great option for anyone who plays outdoor sports. This non-whitening physical sunscreen protects for up to three hours from both water and sweat. You’ll love this nourishing cream which is filled with natural ingredients including Macadamia Nut Oil and Vitamin E.

Natural Waterproof Sunscreen
For long days at the beach or by the pool, you need a water resistant sunscreen. The Soleo Organics Sunscreen SPF 30+ $16.95, is water resistant for up to 3 hours. This non-greasy, easily absorbed sunscreen can be used on both the face and body during summer and all year-round.

After Sun Care
If you’ve spent too long in the sun, you may want to soothe your skin with a balm of gel. The Badger After Sun Balm $21.95 is a gentle balm filled with nourishing ingredients including Beeswax and Jojoba oil. Otherwise, you can’t go past that soothing and cooling feeling of an Aloe Vera Gel!

With all sunscreens avoid contact with eyes and if irritation persists discontinue use. Sunscreen is only one part of sun protection. Wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses when exposed to the sun, and stay in the shade where possible. Prolonged high-risk sun exposure should be avoided. Frequent reapplication and use in accordance with the directions is required for effective sun protection. Always read the label and use only as directed.

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5 Sunscreen Habits You Need to Break This Year

Even if you’re not in the direct path of the sun, UV rays bounce. Now, you certainly don’t need that SPF 50 indoors, but applying some protection can save you damage over the long term because incidental sun exposure adds up over a lifetime. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to make wearing sunscreen part of your daily routine. There are plenty of opportunities to beef up your sun protection by incorporating an SPF primer or foundation into your routine, using an SPF makeup setting spray or a hydrating facial mist with an SPF in it.


You’ve put on your sunscreen, and now you can forget about it for the day! If only it were that simple.

The active ingredients in your sunscreen are used up, in a sense, as they absorb or reflect harmful rays. Some chemical sunscreens even have issues with photostability, meaning they may degrade from simply being exposed to light. That’s why reapplying sunscreen every two hours, or after sweating is a key part of sun protection.


Do you dab a few drops of sunscreen on your face, rub it in, and dash out the door? You may be surprised to hear you’re not getting the most out of your sunscreen. It’s always best to follow the instructions on the label, but in general, apply one teaspoon (6 ml) of sunscreen to each of the following areas: face, ears, and neck, each arm and shoulder, each leg, your back, and your front.

Excessive rubbing can also impact the amount of protection you receive. If you’re wearing a Zinc Sunscreen, you might be tempted to put less on to avoid a white cast. This is a major no- no. If you’re concerned with white cast, let your sunscreen set longer or purchase the best organic facial sunscreen mist, ZINC IT OVER®.


Yes, sunscreen can expire. And when it does, it loses some, or even all, of its effectiveness. Check the label of your sunscreen for its expiration date. If it has expired, you’re better off tossing it and getting a fresh bottle-your skin will thank you!

Most sunscreens last approximately 3 years, but if there’s no expiration date and you can’t remember when you bought it, you can always call the manufacturer. The beauty of a Zinc Sunscreen is that it lasts longer, as the zinc itself has a very long shelf life. The other ingredients in your Zinc Sunscreen can still degrade, so the expiration date still applies.

Habit 5: NOT GETTING ENOUGH UV PROTECTION (this is where Zinc Sunscreen shines)!

There was a simpler time when all we had to worry about was slathering on some high-SPF sunscreen before hitting the beach. Well, times have changed. Advances in our understanding of how UV rays affect the skin have introduced a whole new set of concerns.

Next time you’re heading to the beach, remember to check whether your sunscreen is still effective. Although sunscreen may last longer than milk and restaurant leftovers, it still has an expiration date, experts told Live Science.

That date depends on how the sunscreen is stored, said Georgios Imanidis, a professor of pharmaceutical technology at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.

If sunscreen is stored in a cool and dry place — in a closet, for instance — it can last for years, maybe even five to 10 years, the experts said. Most sunscreen manufacturers say that sunscreen is effective for three years, so long as the product is stored in optimum conditions.

But people often take sunscreen to the beach, leave it in their hot cars or stuff it in their backpacks while outdoors. When sunscreen gets hot, its components break down faster, making it expire sooner than it would normally, maybe even in six months to a year, Imanidis said.

Sunscreen’s ingredients

Sunscreen contains inorganic compounds, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which prevent sunburn by absorbing or reflecting ultraviolet (UV) radiation that would otherwise penetrate your skin.

But sunscreen also contains ingredients that give the lotion a fragrant smell and make it easy to apply, said Rigoberto Advincula, a professor in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. These components include natural oils and aloe vera, as well as additives such as emulsifiers (substances that help oils and water mix into a single substance).

The first component to break down is usually the emulsifier, Advincula said. Without this ingredient, the water and oil separate. This can make the sunscreen runny or grainy, or simply not stick to the skin as well as it used to, the experts said.

To avoid this problem, users should simply give the sunscreen a good shake and then put it on, so long as it’s not too old, the experts advised.

As sunscreen ages (or is exposed to too much heat and moisture), its other ingredients degrade and interact with one another, leading them to lose some of their sun-blocking properties, Imanidis said.

” after all this, the sunscreen does not completely lose its properties,” he said. “It may lose its potency to some extent, but it’s still a sunscreen.”

For example, a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 55 might age into a sunscreen with a 40 or 30 SPF over time, Imanidis said. The SPF number refers to how long a person can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. If a person normally gets sunburned in 10 minutes, then with SPF 30, they can stay out 30 times as long, or 300 minutes (5 hours).

However, few people put on as much sunscreen as manufacturers advise. The gold standard is 0.00007054 ounces per 0.15 square inches (2 milligrams per square centimeter). So you don’t have to pull out the scale on the beach, put the equivalent of a full shot glass of sunscreen over the exposed parts of your face and body, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

What’s more, because people might use expired sunscreen (which is less effective) and fail to put on enough sunscreen in general, it’s advisable to re-apply it often, about every 2 to 3 hours, Imanidis said.

“You may go through a tube that has 2 or 3 fluid ounces in a week,” Imanidis said.

He added that sunscreen sprays are less efficacious than thicker products, such as creams.

“We find that sprays do not last as long as others in terms of protection,” Imanidis said. “If you have a cream that’s relatively thick, and you go out in the sun, you can apply it twice or three times a day. If you have a spray, then probably use it every hour.”

Original article on Live Science.

You’ve probably heard the term “zinc oxide” thrown around a lot recently, and it’s for a good reason. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new sunscreen regulations, which say that only two sunscreen actives are considered safe and effective: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

What’s the difference between zinc oxide and mineral sunscreens?

Unlike their chemical counterparts work by absorbing the sun’s harmful rays, mineral (also called physical) sunscreens protect you from the sun by sitting on top of your skin and physically blocking it. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are just two specific types of minerals. Depending on the formulas and the size of the particles in them, these sunscreens tend to leave a white cast behind on skin that chemical sunscreens don’t.

In fact, experts often recommend zinc oxide as an active ingredient for those with specific health concerns or skin issues. “For consumers who are concerned about hormonal disruption, specifically for children, I recommend sunscreens with mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” says Steven Q. Wang, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Plus, “mineral sunscreens do not cause allergic reaction on the skin,” says Henry W. Lim, M.D., a dermatologist at the Henry Ford Medical Center in Detroit, MI. That makes them a great option for people with sensitive skin or eczema.

Just like chemical sunscreens, you should be wearing at least SPF 30 every day and reapplying often (every two hours and especially after swimming and sweating) when using a mineral formula. But using a sunscreen isn’t the first line of defense against harmful rays. Our experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab say the best approach — in addition to applying sunscreen — is seeking shade and wearing clothes, hats, and sunglasses.

What else do I need to know about zinc oxide?

Not all sunscreens that contain zinc oxide are completely mineral-based. While some can be a blend of mineral actives (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), others are actually a mixture of minerals and chemical actives. Since sunscreens are regulated as over-the-counter drugs in the U.S., the actives in a formula can be found on the product’s packaging — look for the “drug facts” heading.

While all the products we recommend here are only formulated with mineral actives, be sure to check the drug facts before purchasing other products claiming to be “natural” or “mineral-based” if you’re trying to avoid chemicals.

And if you’re thinking about making your own zinc oxide sunscreen at home, don’t. A DIY version likely won’t add up to be the correct SPF, making it ineffective and potentially dangerous in the long run. Our Beauty Lab experts agree that there is much more to making an effective sunscreen than there is to creating a lip balm or body butter at home. Manufacturers need to meet strict FDA standards and a formulation’s efficacy needs to be proven by passing required tests. (That’s how they determine its SPF level and whether it can carry the “broad-spectrum” claim, which means it protects against potential cancers, aging, and sunburn.) You’re better off just buying a zinc oxide sunscreen to use.

How we test sunscreens

Our Beauty Lab regularly evaluates the sunscreens available on the market and sends them out to real consumers (readers just like you) to test. After testers fill out an extensive questionnaire, our Beauty Lab experts sort through the data to find the best ones to recommend. Each product is scored on things like ease of application, the feeling it leaves on skin, if it leaves behind any residue, sun protection, and much more.

Here are the best zinc oxide sunscreens to buy in 2020:

Does Natural Sunscreen Hold Up Against Regular Sunscreen?

During summer, the only question more important than “Which way to the beach?” is “Did someone bring sunscreen?” Skin cancer is no joke: Rates of melanoma have been on the rise for the last 30 years, and the Mayo Clinic recently reported that two types of skin cancer rose a jaw-dropping 145 percent and 263 percent from 2000 to 2010.

While we know sunscreen helps protect against skin cancer, you may be protecting your skin way less than you think by unknowingly choosing the wrong formula. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released their 2017 annual sunscreen guide, rating roughly 1,500 products advertised as sun protection for safety and efficacy. They found a whopping 73 percent of the products didn’t work very well, or contained concerning ingredients, including chemicals tied to hormone disruption and skin irritation.

Their researchers point out that even though most people focus on a high SPF, what they should really be looking at is the ingredients in the bottle. The brands least likely to have potentially harmful or irritating compounds typically fall into a category called mineral-based, or “natural,” sunscreens.

Apparently, a lot of you are already curious about the category: A 2016 Consumer Reports survey found that nearly half of the 1,000 people surveyed said they look for a “natural” product when shopping for sunscreen. But can natural sunscreens really match up to the protection provided by chemical formulas?

Surprisingly, two dermatologists confirm that they in fact can. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s In a Mineral Formula?

The difference between traditional, chemical-based sunscreens and the mineral variety comes down to the type of active ingredients. Mineral-based creams use physical blockers-zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide-which form an actual barrier on your skin and reflect the UV rays. The others use chemical blockers-typically some combination of oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and/or octinoxate-which absorb UV radiation to dissipate it. (We know, it’s a mouthful!)

There are also two types of UV radiation: UVB, which is responsible for actual sunburns, and UVA rays, which penetrate deeper. Mineral-based, physical blockers protect against both. But since chemical blockers absorb the rays instead, this allows UVA to reach those deeper layers of your skin and do damage, explains Jeanette Jacknin, M.D., San Diego–based holistic dermatologist and author of Smart Medicine for Your Skin.

The Problem with Chemical Blockers

The other biggest concern with chemical blockers is the idea that they disrupt hormone production. This is something animal and cell studies have confirmed, but we need more research on humans to tell us how it functions specific to sunscreen (how much of the chemical is absorbed, how quickly it’s excreted, etc.), says Apple Bodemer, M.D., professor of dermatology at the University of Wisconsin.

But studies on these chemicals, in general, are alarming for a product we’re supposed to spread on every day. One chemical in particular, oxybenzone, has been linked with a higher risk of endometriosis in women, poorer sperm quality in men, skin allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage-and oxybenzone is added to nearly 65 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens in the EWG’s 2017 sunscreen database, Dr. Jacknin points out. And a new study out of Russia published in the journal Chemosphere found that while a common sunscreen chemical, avobenzone, is generally safe on its own, when the molecules interact with chlorinated water and UV radiation, it breaks down into compounds called phenols and acetyl benzenes, which are known to be incredibly toxic.

Another worrisome chemical: retinyl palmitate, which may trigger the development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in sunlight, she adds. Even on a less alarmist page, oxybenzone and other chemicals tend to cause problems with skin reactions and irritations, while most minerals don’t, Dr. Bodemer says-though she adds that this is mostly just an issue for adults with sensitive skin and kids.

So Are All Mineral-Based Creams Better?

Mineral-based creams are more natural, but even their cleaner ingredients go through a chemical process during formulation, Dr. Bodemer clarifies. And a lot of mineral-based sunscreens have chemical blockers in them, too. “It’s not uncommon to find a combination of both physical and chemical blockers,” she adds.

That being said, since we know so little about what chemical blockers really do in our bodies, both experts agree your best bet is reaching for mineral sunscreens with physical blockers, especially if you have sensitive skin.

The superior protection does come at a superficial price, though: “One big downside is that many natural sunscreens with high concentrations of zinc and titanium dioxide are very white and not cosmetically pleasing,” Dr. Jacknin says. (Think surfers with the white stripe down their nose.)

Luckily, most manufacturers have counteracted this by developing formulas with nanoparticles, which help the white titanium dioxide look more transparent and actually offer better SPF protection-but at the cost of worse UVA protection, says Dr. Jacknin. Ideally, the formula has a balance of larger zinc oxide particles for greater UVA protection, and smaller titanium dioxide particles so the product will go on clear.

What to Look For

While mineral sunscreens are typically better for your skin, how much better really depends on what else is inside. Just like with food packaging, the word “natural” on the label really holds no weight. “All sunscreens have chemicals in them, whether they’re considered natural or not. How natural they are really depends on the brand,” Dr. Bodemer says.

Look for sunscreens with active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. You’ll probably find the best selection at an outdoor store or specialty health food shop, but even ubiquitous brands like Neutrogena and Aveeno have mineral-based formulas. If you can’t find these on the shelf, next best is avoiding ones with the chemicals that science says are most harmful: oxybenzone, avobenzone, and retinyl palmitate. (Pro tip: If you have sensitive skin, look for bottles labeled for kids, Dr. Bodemer shares.) As for the inactive ingredients, Dr. Bodemer recommends looking for bottles labeled “sport” or “water resistant” rather than a specific base, as these will stay on longer through sweat and water. And while most of us are taught to look for SPF, even the FDA calls high SPF “inherently misleading.” The EWG points out it’s far more effective to apply a low SPF sunscreen properly than a higher one half-heartedly. Dr. Bodemer confirms: Every sunscreen will wear off, so no matter the SPF or active ingredients, you need to reapply at least every two hours. (FYI here are some sunscreen options that stood up to our sweat test.)

And although it might be more of a hassle to put on, you’re better off sticking to lotion-those nanoparticles that minimize chalkiness are generally safe, but could cause lung damage if you inhale them from a spray formula, Dr. Jacknin adds. Another important application FYI: Because mineral sunscreen protects by forming a barrier, you want to lather up 15 to 20 minutes before you head out-before you start moving and sweating-to ensure you have an even film across your skin once you hit the sun, Dr. Bodemer says. (For the chemical kind, put it on 20 to 30 minutes pre-sun exposure so it has time to soak in.)

The EWG rates every brand of sunscreen for efficacy and safety, so check out their database to see where your favorite formula falls. A few of our favorite brands that meet the guidelines of these derms and the EWG: Beyond Coastal Active Sunscreen, Badger Tinted Sunscreen, and Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen.

Remember though that in a pinch, any type of sunscreen is better than no sunscreen. “We know UV radiation is a human carcinogen-it definitely causes non-melanoma type skin cancers, and burns in particular are strongly associated with melanoma. Going out in the sun has a much higher likelihood of causing cancer than putting sunscreen on your skin,” Dr. Bodemer adds.

  • By Rachael Schultz @_RSchultz

Why switching from chemical to mineral sunscreens might be your best bet

What’s in your sunscreen?

Chemicals long used in sunblock are under new scrutiny — and may signal it’s time to start reaching for alternatives.

Some of these chemicals enter the bloodstream at a rate that should require additional safety data, according to a preliminary study published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The four chemicals — avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene — are among the 12 ingredients that the FDA recently flagged in its efforts to update sunscreen regulations. The administration has proposed new rules that would encourage manufacturers to research these chemicals before the government deems them “generally regarded as safe and effective.”

Mineral sunscreens, as opposed to chemical sunscreens, are a better bet, says Upper East Side dermatologist Michele Green. They contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — which the FDA has deemed generally safe and effective.

They physically block both UVA rays (those that can cause premature aging) and UVB rays (the ones responsible for burns), providing a shield on the surface of skin, instead of absorbing the sun’s rays as chemical sunscreens do.

And while Green would prefer folks — especially those under the age of 21 — slather on mineral-based blockers, she cautions that a chemical sunscreen is still safer than no protection at all.

“Should you throw it away? No, you absolutely need it to protect you against skin cancer,” says Green. “On average, a person’s risk of melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.”

Looking for some more guidance as you rethink your sunscreen supply?

Last week, the Environmental Working Group released its annual guide to safe sunscreens. The watchdog group’s researchers found that two-thirds of the more than 1,300 sunscreens on the market either don’t provide enough protection or contain ingredients that are especially worrisome — such as oxybenzone, which may have hormone-disrupting qualities dangerous for kids. You can type in the name of your sunscreen at to see how it ranked and get a full ingredient breakdown.

Mineral sunscreen’s only con? Its reputation for leaving an unbecoming white film on the skin.

“But I would rather have that than cancer,” says Green, adding that the film makes it easier to see where you’ve applied it. “It’s a good way to know your skin is really protected.”

Some sunscreen makers have created mineral formulas that offset the dreaded opaque white hue without sacrificing protection. Here are some of our favorites:

CeraVe Hydrating Sunscreen


Thanks to hyaluronic acid and ceramides, this body sunscreen (available in SPF 30 and 50) actually moisturizes as it protects — and for a great price. Just make sure you rub it in!

$12.79 at

Clean Screen Mineral mattifying face sunscreen

Ren Skincare

If most facial sunscreens leave you greasy, reach for this SPF 30 matte cream, which feels rich (it’s got yellow passion fruit for anti-oxidants) even while it absorbs oil.

$36 at

Brush on Block Protective lip oil

Lips need love, too — this neutral-toned SPF 32 lip oil goes on like a hydrating gloss, and also has iron oxides to help block blue light from screens, in addition to UV protection.

$25 at

Supergoop Smooth and Poreless 100 Percent Mineral Matte sunscreen

The universal tint of this face and body cream gives it a subtle smoothing quality, for guys and gals alike. It’s also water- and sweat-resistant and comes in SPF 40.

$38 at

Drunk Elephant’s Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

Drunk Elephant

Even with its superhigh concentration of zinc (20 percent!), this silicone- and fragrance-free formula is moisturizing thanks to infusions of marula and raspberry seed oils.

$34 at

Countersun Tinted Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30

This newly launched tinted mist (there is also an untinted version) adds a flattering glow to legs and sprays on evenly sans aerosol — it’s air-powered.

$39 at

UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50

Recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, this water-resistant cream stands up to summer’s outdoor activities, whether you’re out on the tennis court or golf course.

$34 at

I’ll admit it: I’m afraid of the sun. Growing up in Australia, where I’ve woken up sunburned after merely dreaming about the sun, I’ve had enough run-ins with that big burnin’ star to justify a lifetime of hiding in the shade. This has led to an unabashed obsessed with sunscreen wherein I never leave the house without it and have even been known to slather it on my loved ones without their consent. I take pride in being a grown-ass adult who cares about sun protection.

So when Leandra recently asked the Man Repeller editorial team: “What’s the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen? WHAT SHOULD I DO?” I immediately volunteered as tribute. I spoke to Ivy Lee, adjunct assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California, and Anisha Patel, MD and board-certified dermatologist, to find out everything there is to know about mineral sunscreen.

What the hell is a mineral sunscreen, anyway?

Mineral sunscreens protect your skin by physically blocking and reflecting UV light, which is why they’re also known as physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens, which are more common, work in a different way, absorbing UV light, then releasing it as heat after a chemical reaction has taken place. (Science!)

While chemical sunscreens take about 20 minutes to begin working, mineral sunscreens start protecting the skin as soon as they’re applied. They also only include two ingredients: ​zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. According to Lee, mineral products are less likely to irritate sensitive skin and have a longer shelf life than chemical formulas.

Are they actually non-toxic?

They are! “Mineral sunscreens are a wonderful non-toxic option,” says Lee. “They are chemically inert, don’t penetrate the skin, and aren’t absorbed systemically.” They’re also reef-safe, which means they won’t have any negative impact on marine ecology when worn swimming. If your summer plans include snorkelling, and you want that coral to keep shining bright, a mineral sunscreen is the way to go.

However, it is worth noting that even sunscreens that do contain chemicals aren’t inherently bad for you or your skin. So, if you’re happy with the product you use and aren’t swimming by a coral reef any time soon, it’s perfectly fine to choose either kind of sunscreen.

How do I decide which sunscreen is right for me?

According to Patel, the best sunscreen is one you’ll actually wear. “Chemical sunscreens usually have lighter formulas and blend into my skin better, so that’s what I use most days. But if I’m going to spend the day outdoors, I’ll use a mineral sunscreen,” she says.

When deciding between mineral or chemical it’s important to consider your skin type. Chemical sunscreens can irritate the skin, so if you’ve found your face burning after applying sunscreen, it might be wise to make the switch to mineral. The same goes for people who are acne- or eczema-prone — with less active ingredients, mineral sunscreen is less likely to freak out sensitive skin.

That said, mineral sunscreen formulas can be thick and chalky (think of a lifeguard’s zinc-covered nose), so aren’t always preferred by people with darker skin tones. If you’re worried about your skin getting the ghost treatment but still want to try a mineral sunscreen, look for a tinted product (like this super popular Drunk Elephant one) and always try before you buy when possible.

And if I want to go with mineral sunscreen, how do I pick one?

Before you do anything, check the ingredients. A true mineral sunscreen should only include ​zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or a combination of both, says Lee. Your product should also be at least SPF30 and be broad spectrum, meaning it will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. Once you’ve ticked off those keywords, go ahead and test the sunscreen for blendability and feel.

They say it’s important to face your fears and after writing this story, I think I’m finally ready to take on the sun — but only if I’m covered head to toe in sunscreen first.

Photo by Michael Ochs via Getty Images.

The Difference Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreen

Many of us love spending the day in the sun. Unfortunately, sunshine can wreak havoc on your skin in the form of burns, blisters, and even skin cancer.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and nearly 20 Americans die from melanoma — the most dangerous form of skin cancer — every day, per the Skin Cancer Foundation. The No. 1 cause of melanoma? Exposure to natural and artificial ultraviolet (UV) light; the same light you get from tanning beds and the sun’s rays.

Fortunately, you may be able to curb the negative effects of sun exposure by making sunscreen a regular part of your daily skin-care regimen. A study published in September 2018 in JAMA Dermatology reveals that regular sunscreen use in young adults is strongly associated with a reduced risk of melanoma. Similarly, a long-term study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggests that regular sunscreen use may prevent melanoma in adults.

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That said, not all sunscreens are created equal. There are two main types — chemical and mineral — and each type has its pros and cons. Here’s what you need to know.

How Do Chemical and Mineral Sunscreens Work?

Chemical and mineral sunscreens shield your skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays in very different ways.

“Mineral sunscreen , zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are small particles that sit on the skin’s surface and physically prevent UV rays from penetrating the skin,” says Jennifer L. MacGregor, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. You can also apply mineral sunscreens on top of other skin-care products.

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, allow UV light into the skin. Once the light is absorbed into the skin, the chemicals in the sunscreen (the AAD lists oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate) create a chemical reaction in which UV light is converted to heat, and the heat dissipates from the skin, says Lauren Ploch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Augusta, Georgia.

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Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen: Is One Type Safer?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates sunscreen products, hasn’t labeled either type of sunscreen unsafe. But as of February 21, 2019, the FDA has proposed a rule to update regulatory requirements for sunscreen products sold in the United States.

As part of this proposed rule, the FDA has called for additional safety information on 12 active ingredients commonly found in chemical sunscreens: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.

A small randomized clinical trial published in May 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that four of these sunscreen chemicals (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule) are absorbed into the bloodstream at significantly greater levels than 0.5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). That’s far above the amount at which the FDA requires topical medications to undergo safety studies to determine possible toxic effects.

Although study authors say these results support the need for more research, they also say their findings don’t indicate sunscreen is unsafe. What’s more, the known health risks of sun exposure far outweigh the potential risk of absorbing sunscreen chemicals.

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Still, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends avoiding chemical sunscreens with oxybenzone because of concerns that this ingredient may disrupt hormones and cause allergic skin reactions.

Dr. MacGregor also warns against using chemical sunscreens when swimming in the ocean. A review published in January 2019 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reveals that common chemical sunscreen ingredients such as oxybenzone may bleach and damage coral reefs.

Meanwhile, the ingredients in mineral sunscreens — zinc oxide and titanium oxide — have been generally recognized as safe and effective by the FDA.

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The Pros and Cons of Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens

The Pros of Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens are quick and easy to apply, and unlike mineral sunscreens, they don’t leave a white film on the skin. What’s more, chemical sunscreens statistically perform better on consumer tests that look at how long they protect the skin from UV rays, Dr. Ploch says.

The Cons of Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens may cause skin reactions in certain people. Ploch says chemical sunscreens can cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin, and worsen melasma and rosacea. According to the AAD, melasma is a common skin condition that results in brown patches on the face, forearms, and neck, while rosacea results in red patches and small pimples on the cheeks, nose, and forehead.

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The Pros of Mineral Sunscreen

The two most common ingredients in mineral sunscreens, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are the only sunscreen ingredients generally recognized as safe and effective by the FDA. “ are much safer for people who are concerned about long-term exposure to chemical ingredients,” Ploch says.

Mineral sunscreens are also ideal for children, people with sensitive skin, and people with melasma. “The heat dissipation of chemical sunscreens can exacerbate melasma,” Ploch explains.

And unlike chemical sunscreens, which typically take 20 to 30 minutes to absorb into the skin, mineral sunscreens offer immediate protection — no waiting needed. Mineral sunscreens can also be applied on top of makeup and other skin-care products.

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The Cons of Mineral Sunscreen

Because mineral sunscreen is thick and sits on top of the skin, it may contribute to breakouts in people prone to acne. “Acne-prone or combination skin may benefit from a combination of both mineral and chemical ingredients,” Ploch says. Meanwhile, MacGregor recommends combination sunscreen products with anti-acne additives like niacinamide (EltaMD 46 UV Clear is just one option).

Mineral sunscreens are also harder to apply, tend to leave a white film on the skin (thanks to the presence of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide), and need to be applied more frequently than chemical sunscreens, Ploch says.

Still, mineral sunscreens have come a long way over the years, and there are options on the market that won’t leave a white cast on your skin. “Ask an expert and try a few to find one you like,” MacGregor says. She recommends EltaMD, Alastin, and Isdin.

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Bottom Line: Mineral Is Best, but Something Is Better Than Nothing

Between the two types, mineral sunscreens are generally the better, healthier option. “I tell my patients that mineral sunscreens are like a healthy, home-cooked meal, chemical sunscreens are like the fast food of sunscreens.” Ploch says. Mineral sunscreens typically take longer to rub into your skin and need to be applied more frequently, but they may be safer for long-term use.

That said, some sunscreen is better than none. The FDA recommends using broad-spectrum sunscreen (these protect you from both types of UV rays: UVA and UVB) with SPF values of 15 or higher, making sure to reapply at least every two hours.

Mineral sunscreen vs chemical

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