Chemicals in sunscreen a look at the ingredients in sunscreen compared to a mineral based one

Mineral sunscreen vs chemical sunscreen, what should I use?

Chemicals in Sunscreen – Why You Should Choose A Mineral Sunscreen Instead

Recent research from the FDA has highlighted that chemicals from sunscreen are entering the bloodstream. If you maintain a natural skin care regime the likelihood is that you avoid chemical sunscreens anyway and choose a mineral based sun block instead, but what if you don’t? What exactly are you applying to your skin?

Knowing which type of sunscreen to use can become confusing. You may be wondering what are the differences between chemical and mineral sunscreen and which is better for your skin? In this post I’ll explain how each type of sunscreen works and what are the common ingredients found in chemical sunscreen compared to mineral sunscreen.

When should I use sunscreen?

Firstly before we start looking at sunscreen, it really needs to be emphasised that UV rays are present even on a grey cloudy day. Slapping on the sunscreen only when the sun comes out could, in the long term, be a costly mistake. Sun protection is the best anti ageing product you can buy. It can easily be incorporated into your all year round natural skin care regime and it can be used in your natural skin care routine too.

No matter how good your current anti-ageing skin care regime is, protecting your skin from irreversible ageing sun damage is something that should be a priority.

What the FDA Report says on the chemical ingredients in sunscreen

The FDA Report is not stating that we should stop using sun protection nor is it stating that you should stop using chemical sun protection. What it is advising is that further analysis of 12 ingredients is required to measure their safety. It also states that further testing is required to confirm whether or not these ingredients do have a link to cancer, hormone disruption, birth defects, skin irritation for example. The levels of these 12 ingredients were found in the blood stream but without further testing they cannot confirm whether or not these levels are safe or not.

What happens if I don’t wear sunscreen?

You will be exposing your skin to both the UV (UVA and UVB) rays, leaving you with long term skin damage and sun burn.

The UVB rays, which burn our skin, also damage the dermis layer of the skin leading to the risk of skin cancers such as melanoma.

The UVA rays cause premature ageing affecting the skin at a deeper level than the UVB rays. They break down the collagen, which hinders your skin’s ability to produce new collagen. Once the collagen has been destroyed your skin loses its elasticity. This is how wrinkles form.

How do mineral sunscreens work compared to chemical ones?

If you want to avoid the worry of chemical ingredients you do have a choice. That choice is to use a mineral sunscreen instead.

Mineral based sunscreens bounce the light off the skin. They block the sun’s rays so that they do not get absorbed into the skin.This means that the UV light is deflected away from the skin.

As the sun block forms a protective layer over the skin, you may find that when you start using a mineral based sunscreen it does not absorb as easily as a chemical sunscreen does.

Chemical sunscreens work differently. The chemicals have the ability to change the sun rays into heat. This heat does not get deflected, instead it gets absorbed into the skin. This is why chemical sun screen is more absorbent than mineral sun protection products.

Mineral sunscreen vs chemical sunscreen – The differences

So when it comes to sun protection you have two choices, mineral based or chemical based.

As mentioned above, mineral based products block the rays by bouncing the light off the skin and chemical based products change the light into heat and absorb into the skin.

In order to block the UVA and UVB there are two main ingredients found in mineral sunscreen. These are titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. These ingredients act as a block deflecting and scattering the UV light. Which means that the rays are not absorbed into the skin. Imagine hundreds of umbrellas all over the skin protecting it by dispersing the light away.

Mineral Sunscreen Ingredients

1. Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide

Titanium dioxide, a naturally occurring mineral, protects against UVB rays and short UVA rays. Zinc oxide protects against UVB rays and both short and longer UVA rays.

The UVA rays are responsible for anti-aging whilst the UVB rays cause the sunburn and what we tend to associate with skin cancers.

2. Antioxidants

The addition of antioxidants, such as green tea, vitamin C and vitamin E are extremely beneficial in mineral sun blocks. Antioxidants fight the free radicals which cause premature ageing brought on by external factors such as UV rays. Antioxidants will be present in many anti-ageing products.

Green Tea is a natural ingredient that provides anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory properties. It calms and soothes the skin and boosts circulation. You’ll see it listed in the ingredients as Camellia Sinesis Leaf Extract.

Vitamin C is used in many anti-ageing products as it soothes fine lines and wrinkles. With calming properties, Vitamin C can reduce irritation and inflammation. It is a powerful antioxidant and can help brighten up the skin. You’ll see it listed in the ingredients as L-ascorbic acid

Vitamin E another extremely effective antioxidant that is used in many products. You’ll see it listed in the ingredients as Tocopherol.

Chemical Sunscreen Ingredients

1. Octinoxate

This ingredient blocks the UVB rays, the rays that cause sun burn. However it is thought that Octinoxate is a potential hormone disruptor and worryingly it has been found to accumulate in the body.

2. Octocrylene

One of the four ingredients highlighted in the report, Octocrylene is a possible skin irritant. It blocks out both UVB and UVA rays, those that burn and cause anti-ageing.

3. Oxybenzone

Another of the ingredients of concern is Oxybenzone. Whilst this ingredient protects the skin against both UVA and UVB rays it comes with some health concerns too. Not only does it have toxicity concerns but it is also thought to affect hormone levels during pregnancy.

This ingredients has also been listed as a possible threat to marine life by scientists. Which is why you will not be able to use a sunscreen containing this ingredient in Hawaii. Hawaii bans the use of any sunscreen that contains chemicals harmful to the coral reefs.

4. Ecamsule

Ecamsule is the third ingredient listed by the FDA as requiring further tests before confirming its safety in sun protection products. The concern with Ecamsule is due to its skin irritation issues. This is of particular concern if you are troubled with acne or sensitive skin.

5. Avobenzone

The final ingredient of the four in question. The reason for it’s inclusion is due to the concern it has with its link to cancer cancer.

Sunscreen and the environment

Natural skin care is not only about being mindful of the ingredients that you put on your skin it is also about being mindful of the environment too. True mineral sun blocks will be environmentally friendly, biodegradable and safe for marine life.

Hawaii was one of the first countries to ban certain chemicals but others are following suit!

What if my sunscreen says ‘Natural’?

Even if the sunscreen states it is natural it may still be worth checking over the ingredients. It is difficult to fall into the trap in believing that a product is natural when in fact it may only have one or two natural ingredients. Even I struggle with this, especially when in a rush. In fact, I was going to recommend a mineral based product that ticked all my boxes, but unfortunately hidden within the natural ingredients was a chemical based one. So this one won’t be on my recommended list!

Can I make my own sunscreen?

When hit with alarming headlines of chemicals being found in the bloodstream it can be tempting to head to Pinterest and start making your own sun protection products. So let me be straight with you, don’t!

Sunscreen formulation is a science in itself and  I would never recommend anyone make their own. There are recipes available and they come with many false claims. You will not know the SPF of your DIY creations so it is definitely not advisable. The amount of testing to determine the SPF factor is a very lengthy and expensive process. Leave this DIY skincare formulation to the experts. Sunscreen is something that should be shop bought and not homemade.

Mineral sunscreen recommendations

I have not tried any of the following products nor am I affiliated to any of them, however I will certainly be trying them out over the next few months and will let you know my findings. The reason I have selected these products is purely based on the ingredients present and what I would happily use on myself and my family.

Neals Yard Wild Rose Moisturising SPF  50ml £25.00

This is a moisturising sunscreen using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide

Kiehls Ultra Light Daily UV Defense Mineral Suncreen 50ml £35.00

A sunscreen for acne and sensitive skin types using titanium dioxide and vitamin E (an antioxidant)

Green People SPF30 Sun Lotion 200ml £22.00

Ideal for sensitive skin types and those prone to prickly heat. Contains titanium dioxide, aloe vera and green tea (an antioxidant)

Odylique Natural Sun Screen SPF 30 100ml £25.00

Ideal for sensitive skin and the whole family. Contains zinc oxide

Badger Sunscreen SPF 30

Unscented sunscreen containing zinc oxide


Whichever sunscreen you choose, just make sure you wear it every day!





3 Responses

  1. Great post! I’ve been living in sunny southern California for the past 4 years and it’s starting to take a toll on my skin 🙁 I really need to be more consistent with wearing sunscreen but I hate putting chemicals on my face. I haven’t tried any mineral sunscreens yet, but I’ve been meaning to do it for awhile now. I’ve heard good things about Badger.

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