Give Chemicals the Bird: Chemical vs. Mineral UV Protection

Once upon a time, everyone turned to nature for all their remedies, including UV protection. Were they perfect? No—and medical breakthroughs made things much easier for the human race. But unfortunately, humans also raced to forget everything they had learned from nature in the process.

The key is balance and moderation. Everything is both good and bad. A diet with carrots is great. A diet of only carrots will leave your body lacking. It can even turn you orange—a condition known as carotenemia.

So how do we know what’s “right”? It all begins with moderation and carefully weighing the benefits versus the consequences. Being as natural as possible when you can be will only help balance out those times when it isn’t possible or practical to choose the natural route. Sunscreen is one of those daily decisions where the benefits of a more natural approach really pay off.

Comparing sunscreen ingredients—apples to… well, not apples

It may help to learn that the term “sunscreen,” in many cases, refers to the active ingredients used for UV protection, and not the actual finished lotion or spray product. These active ingredients can be divided into two categories: chemical and physical (also called mineral) sunscreens. Both categories prevent sunburns, but that’s where their similarities end.

Chemical sunscreens prevent sunburns. Check. They are readily available, go on sheer and do what they were designed to do, after you wait for the chemical reaction to work, of course. But what else do they do?

The risks of chemical sunscreens

Most conventional chemical sunscreens contain chemical UV filters such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate or oxtinoxate. These chemicals prevent burns by absorbing, rather than blocking, ultraviolet radiation. That’s why you have to wait up to 20 minutes for them to be effective—so they have time to soak into your skin where they will absorb the rays. They also break down faster in the sun. Many of these also only protect from UVB rays (the burn rays) while the UVA rays that can cause early aging and skin cancer go unchecked.

Aside from providing less than ideal protection, many of these chemical ingredients can irritate your skin and infiltrate your body.(i) It’s not exactly a day at the beach. And it gets worse. Chemical sunscreens have been shown to provoke skin reactions, invade skin cells, produce free radicals, disrupt hormones and actually increase your risk of cancer.(ii) They also cause extensive damage to coral reefs. Looking at all that, a sunburn actually sounds more appealing (no pun intended).

Better UV protection from mineral sunscreens

Let’s look at the flip side. Mineral sunscreens (also called physical sunscreens) like zinc and titanium are a natural alternative. They also prevent sunburns, but they do it by reflecting the sun’s rays away from your skin. Mineral sunscreens like Goddess Garden’s are easy to get, go on sheer and also do what they’re designed to do. Even better, there is no waiting required before they work, plus they don’t decompose through sun exposure, so they theoretically have a longer life on your skin.(iii)

Beyond those benefits, they nourish the skin with soothing ingredients and antioxidants that fight against early aging and damage. The minerals protect the skin from UVA and UVB rays, plus they aren’t absorbed, so they won’t irritate sensitive skin. They’re also biodegradable and don’t contribute to the destruction of the reefs. That’s it.

Pretty simple, right? And given the facts, better UV protection is a good reason to give chemicals the bird!

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(i) Zhang, Tao, Hongwen Sun, Xiaolei Qin, Qian Wu, Yanfeng Zhang, Jing Ma, and Kurunthachalam Kannan. “Benzophenone-type UV Filters in Urine and Blood from Children, Adults, and Pregnant Women in China: Partitioning between Blood and Urine as Well as Maternal and Fetal Cord Blood.” Science of The Total Environment 461-462 (2013): 49-55. Web.

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