Seems like all we care about these days is natural ingredients. Especially with a global pandemic still going on, we started questioning our choices. However, not all that glitters is gold, and not all that is natural, well, good for your skin?
Let’s cut to the chase and look into what makes a natural sunscreen. And more importantly, should we invest in one?
What is natural sunscreen and what makes it natural?
Predominantly, sunscreens fall into two categories: chemical and physical. Natural sunscreens refer to physical sunscreens that contain minerals like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. Hence, the name mineral sunscreen. Both physical and mineral sunscreens are referred to as natural sunscreens.
There is a huge debate around what makes sunscreen natural because obviously, you can’t make your own sunscreen at home. It has to be lab tested and certified. Since these zinc oxide and titanium dioxide technically come from Earth, companies love categorizing them as “natural“.
And since consumers fall for that, and basically everyone is obsessed with buzzwords like “organic” or “natural“, skincare marketers benefit from it. What you have to know is that when sunscreens are formulated in the lab, they aren’t made with their raw form, they get refined anyway.
What is chemical sunscreen and is it evil?
No, chemical sunscreens aren’t evil, although some brands would make you believe they are.
Chemical sunscreens are formulated with sun protection filters such as octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate, ecamsule, octocrylene, homosalate, and oxybenzone. The latter might ring a bell since its use was a bit controversial.
Although the Environmental Working Group (EWG) acts as a fearmonger when it comes to its use in sunscreens, further research (along with other 4 active ingredients) shows that there is no reason to believe these sunscreens are unsafe.
There was, however, a finding that resulted in the ban of oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. It was mostly due to its damaging effect on coral reefs in the coastal areas, so the state stepped up to preserve its coastal zone by encouraging the tourists not to use chemical sunscreens.
How does a natural sunscreen work?
In contrast with chemical sunscreens that absorb UV lights, what natural (or mineral) sunscreens do is act as a shield. They sit on the skin and deflect the sun rays, blocking them before reaching the surface of the skin.
Also, you have to wait for a chemical sunscreen to take its effect before you go out. (at least 20 minutes) The mineral sunscreens, however, work right off the bat.
Natural sunscreen VS chemical sunscreen: Which is better?
No matter your personal choice, they both do their job: They protect you from damaging sun rays, just like every sunscreen should.
It is a little bit tricky when it comes to the ‘safety factor”. According to FDA, there are 16 active ingredients in sunscreen product labels considered to be safe. (guess what, Oxybenzone is among them)
We will break them down and you will be the judge. Here we go:
Pros of natural sunscreen
As mentioned above, natural sunscreens (aka physical sunscreens) work right away, meaning you don’t have to wait for 20 minutes before going out. That’s one of the advantages it’s got over chemical sunscreens.
Natural sunscreens are also a great option for sensitive and acne-prone skin. That said, their formula can be a bit thicker than chemical sunscreens. Hence the white cast – a signature indicator of natural sunscreens that many of us aren’t a fan of.
Cons of natural sunscreen
Because natural sunscreens contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, it is only natural for them to leave a white film that we talked about. But that’s not the case for some mineral (aka natural) sunscreens out there, like EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen, for example.
Plus, it is much harder to apply natural sunscreens compared to chemical ones that get absorbed by the skin right away.
Pros of chemical sunscreens
Generally speaking, they apply better on the skin and are more popular. Another reason to go with chemical sunscreens is their rather thinner formula that doesn’t feel so heavy.
Besides, it is known that they provide superior UV (UVA and UVB) protection. The light formula, the stronger UV protection can definitely make them more appealing.
Cons of chemical sunscreens
If you have very sensitive skin, or you tend to break out often, chemical sunscreens might not be your best bet. Some ingredients can potentially be irritating, but that doesn’t mean they are unsafe for your skin.
Back to oxybenzone in chemical sunscreens. In addition to all mentioned above, there was this argument that oxybenzone can be absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream.
Following this, there was a study done where rats were fed oxybenzone. But according to a 2017 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that it is harmful to humans. There has been some talk around allergic reactions with the use of oxybenzone which is not that common but can still happen.
The main reason behind irritation experienced by sensitivity is the heat caused when skin is absorbing the UV rays. The chemicals themselves can burn sometimes when applied. Because minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in natural sunscreen provide instant protection, that’s not the case.
And finally, should you get natural sunscreen?
At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide which protection is for you. Give it a shot and see what works better. Read the product label carefully when shooing a sunscreen. If you have sensitive skin, go with natural sunscreen.
Read: How to read product label when choosing a sunscreen
DIY natural sunscreens: Are they worth it?
The internet is filled with DIY recipes that claim to ensure the organic, clean way of sun protection. But the reality is that it is very tricky to make your own sunscreen that actually works.
Sure, it all seems good because you are in charge of what you put in your sunscreen. However, it comes with its own risks. Most recipes online use oils that not only absorb the light but also clog pores which can lead to outbreaks and further complications.
Also, homemade sunscreen can never provide broad-spectrum protection and it is not possible to test them.
You can give those recipes a try, but beware of possible skin complications. My recommendation is simple: Just don’t 🙂 Most dermatologists do not recommend using such formulas.
Expert advice: Follow the sunscreen instructions by AAD:
- Look for “broad spectrum” sunscreens, meaning they protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays
- Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 (at least)
- Give your sunscreen some time before going out! (20 mins at least)
- Reapply sunscreen about every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating. For the sake of the coastal environment, wear a mineral sunscreen 🙂
- Protect your skin with the clothes you are wearing: broad-rimmed hats, light weight and loose long sleeves (preferably white to fend off UV rays) are your BBFs.
- Don’t forget your lips, get a lip balm with an SPF!
One thing is for sure: Using sunscreen is a must
All types of sunscreens provide sun protection, it is just important to know what your skin needs and see what works for you. Using sunscreen regularly lowers the risk of diseases like skin cancer, melanoma, and numerous related diseases. So, any sunscreen is totally safer than no sunscreen at all.
Shielding your skin from UV lights doesn’t only entail using sunscreen, it also requires further measures. On sunny days, make sure to wear a hat to protect your ears and neck, pop on some sunglasses, and stay in the shade as much as possible.
All these measures altogether will ensure safe protection for your skin.
Stay protected and stay beautiful! In the shade.