9 Benefits of Mineral Sunscreen
Sunscreens are not all made equal.
Broadly speaking there are two types of sunscreen – mineral and ‘chemical’, but there is a huge difference in how each protects you.
Which is better, mineral or chemical?
Our vote comes squarely in favour of the mineral variety, with caveats that we explain later. But firstly, some definitions…
So, What Are The Benefits Of Mineral / Physical Sun Screen?
1. No Need To Wait..
Because mineral sun screen acts as a reflective barrier, protection is immediate, and there is no need to wait for it to protect you. Synthetic sunscreens can take up to 30 minutes to work properly as they first have to absorb into the skin.
2. Some Minerals Can Actively Benefit The Skin
Zinc oxide is good for the skin. It is a key active ingredient in many skin care formulations such as nappy rash creams and acne treatments, as well as being helpful for burns and wounds. It has both an antibacterial action and is used as a building block for skin repair. So, a zinc oxide sun cream can be a kind of 2-in-1 – both a sunscreen and active skin care repair cream. Synthetic sunscreens on the other hand, offer no additional skin benefits.
3. Zinc Oxide is Efficient, Providing Broad Spectrum Sun Screen
With zinc oxide sunscreen you get an additional – and crucial – 2 for the price of 1 – both UVA and UVB protection. UVB rays are the ones that damage the upper layers of the skin and give you sunburn. UVA rays are those that cause premature ageing, such as wrinkles and sun spots, and skin cancer.
Chemical sunscreen filters mostly protect against UVB radiation and often need more than one type of synthetic sun filter (or zinc oxide as well) to achieve the full range of protection. Mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide are thus super-efficient. When choosing any sunscreen, look for the words “full spectrum” or “broad spectrum” and or “UVA in a circle”. This means that the product protects from both UVB and UVA radiation.
4. Fewer Health Risks
Like much of what you put on the skin, chemical sun screens are absorbed into the body and have been found in blood, urine and breast milk samples. This wouldn’t be an issue in itself, but the same synthetic chemical sun screen ingredients are linked to health concerns. We explain more in Harmful Sunscreen Chemicals To Avoid (And Why!), but studies point to a role of the artificial sun screen oxybenzone for example, in allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage.
These studies are all relatively recent and not entirely conclusive. More research is needed to fully understand the harmful effects of chemical sunscreens and in particular, the ‘cocktail effect’ of combining them with other sunscreen filters and other skincare additives. Until then regulatory bodies across the world like the EU Council or the FDA won’t take any steps to ban these chemicals.
Organic certification bodies take the opposite approach and use the precautionary principle of ‘in in doubt, leave it out’. So, all the artificial sunscreen filters are banned under organic health and beauty standards. Only the mineral sunscreen filters are allowed as they are not associated with any health risks.
5. Natural Sun screens Are More Likely To Contain Beneficial Antioxidants
Physical sunscreen that use minerals are generally likely to contain botanical ingredients, potentially even from organic agriculture. These natural and certainly organic plant extracts are rich in antioxidant vitamins which are equally important in protecting the skin from sun-induced premature ageing as the UVA and UVB inhibitors. Plant oils and butters like shea, olive oil and cocoa butter are rich in vitamins that will help scavenge free radicals.
6. Mineral Sun Screen Is Less Environmentally Damaging
Ingredients like oxybenzone are also linked to negative environmental impacts including pollution, where evidence has revealed damage to coral reefs when this chemical is washed off of swimmers (NOAA 2015).
7. Mineral Sun Screens Don’t Irritate Or Clog Your Skin
Many dermatologists believe that mineral sunscreens are less irritating for sensitive or problem skin, are more suitable for babies, and are less likely to lead to contact dermatitis or aggravate acne. Not only are the minerals themselves non-irritant, but because they sit on the skin, rather than being absorbed, they are less likely to provoke a reaction.
8. Sun Screen Minerals are Photostable
Some chemical sunscreens, such as avobenzone, are very unstable and break down in sunlight, so have to be combined with other ingredients. That doesn’t mean all chemical ones break down, but the increased risk, means that you are reliant on the formulator and safety assessor doing a good job.
9. Some Physical Sunscreen Can Be Applied Over Makeup
Sunscreen needs to be applied every two to four hours, which is not ideal if you’ve just perfected your favourite makeup look. If you choose a loose or pressed powder-form mineral sunscreen, you can apply it over foundation and reapply as often as you like.
Mineral sunscreens are your best weapon against sun-induced ageing and skin cancer. So, are there any downsides? Mineral sunscreens have traditionally – and accurately – been accused of giving you a white, chalky look. But mineral sun screen technology has improved considerably in recent years so you don’t need to compromise on appearance. Smaller particle sizes mean that the whiteness is almost invisible. As a result, both niche and mass-market brands are jumping on the mineral sunscreen bandwagon. The sceptics among us say that as soon as mass-market brands get involved, it’s time for consumers to be ware. There are indeed two things to watch out for:
Firstly, nanoparticles. Mineral sunscreens can use nano-size (incredibly tiny) particles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, known as nanoparticles. Nanotechnology is clever; in sun cream, nanoparticle minerals are invisible to the human eye, and in other beauty products nanoparticles of other substances profess to offer anti-ageing benefits. But the ability of nanoparticles to penetrate and potentially alter human cells is not fully understood. In years to come, they may turn out to be benign and innocent, but the lack of understanding is such that by law, nanoparticles have to be called out on ingredient (INCI) labels. Cosmos and Soil Association organic health and beauty standards do not allow nanoparticles.
Secondly, just because it’s a mineral sun screen doesn’t mean all the other ingredients are healthy. Mineral sunscreens can contain petrochemicals, silicones or artificial additives – fragrances and preservatives like parabens or methylisothiazolinone that you might want to avoid.
Some sunscreens that are advertised as mineral, may also contain synthetic filters too. If you’re looking for the purest products, always look for an independently certified organic sun screen, i.e. certified by Cosmos (Soil Association), or Natrue, like Odylique’s Natural Sun Screen. And don’t forget that whichever type of sun screen you opt for, it’s important to apply it correctly. In this blog, we explain how to apply sunscreen properly.
On a related note, remember that SPF alone doesn’t provide the full answer to protecting us, in fact the SPF is really only one of 3 things we should look for in a sun screen. We explain more, including more about broad spectrum sunscreen, in this article, What does SPF mean? If you’d like to find out more about Odylique’s mineral and certified organic sun screen, that uses zinc oxide, Fairtrade shea and vitamin-rich organic plant extracts for full spectrum protection with SPF 30, have a look here. We also provide answers to some frequently asked questions here. Should you be unlucky enough for the sun to catch you unprepared, we have a few tips here on coping with sunburn.
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If you’d like any more advice on sun care, please do email us – firstname.lastname@example.org, add your question as a comment below, or call 01638 491022 – we’re here to help!