Is Mineral Sunscreen better than chemical sunscreen and do we really have to apply sunscreen every day? Why I have changed my mind!
It is all over the media: the Internet, on tv, in women’s magazines or on your favorite blog (including mine): everybody tells us to wear sunscreen every day (even on cloudy days) and that mineral sunscreen is the preferable choice. But is this REALLY true?
I took a deep dive into the world of free information (the Internet!) and was surprised by my findings. Find out why I have changed my mind and will no longer apply sunscreen every day and why I personally do not believe that mineral sunscreen is always really the better choice than chemical sunscreen.
Is Mineral sunscreen better than chemical sunscreen?
For years I am preaching that mineral sunscreen is the better option- it is what we read in the mainstream media. We read it over and over and even dermatologists seem to agree. So, it must be true! Right? I say: No!
Supposedly a mineral sunscreen is “natural” (blocking the sunrays with either zinc oxide or titanium oxide) while a chemical sunscreen is working deep within the skin chemically (with unpronounceable names like avobenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate or oxybenzone). “Chemical” already sounds BAD. But is it? I do not think so. At least not all of them.
Just the sound of “mineral” makes it appear better, doesn’t it? But here is the deal: ALL matter is made of chemicals! We are chemicals! Your friends are chemicals. ALL sunscreens are chemical. Mineral sunscreen is chemical. Mineral sunscreen did not grow on a tree. LOL.
But here is a problem with mineral sunscreen: manufacturers often use nanosized versions of these minerals – materials measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter – to increase clarity and SPF. We do not fully understand the full extent of nanoparticles and if they harm skin cells or organs yet. The use of nanoparticles in cosmetics poses a regulatory challenge, because their properties may vary tremendously, depending on their size, shape, surface area and coatings. We don’t know everything we’d like to know about their performance, because manufacturers are not required to disclose the qualities of the particles used in their sunscreens (source: EWG).
According to the FDA it may be dangerous to inhale or ingest nanoparticles. The lungs have trouble clearing small particles, which may pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. Once swallowed, nanoparticles – from lip sunscreens, for example – can damage the gastrointestinal tract.
Skip Sunscreen Sprays!
It is probably a good idea to NOT use mineral sunscreen in the shape of a spray or powder! But this seems to be true for chemical sunscreen in spray cans as well: Sunscreen sprays pose an inhalation risk and may not coat the skin enough to ensure proper protection. The FDA recently proposed that all spray products undergo additional safety testing! Bummer! I know! But until we know more, I think it is best to skip sunscreen sprays (no matter if mineral or chemical).
On the other hand, there are chemical ingredients that can be definitely dangerous as well: In 2019 FDA proposed that oxybenzone could not be classified as safe and effective based on the current data. It has been detected in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood. It is a potential endocrine disruptor. It is also known to be harmful to aquatic life and reefs. So better skip oxybenzone too (as well as octinoxate).
So, what is my point? While a mineral sunscreen could be the better alternative (if you can get over the thick consistency and white cast), we do not know what exactly manufacturers are producing- there are not enough regulations. The longer I am on this beauty blogger journey, the more I realize that everything comes down to TRUST! Can you trust the company? Art they preferably been around for a couple years, have they shown integrity, do they get involved in causes and issues you feel related too etc…. or is it a brand new company you have never heard of? Who knows what they put in their products!? We can never know for sure.
Why European sunscreen might be your better choice!
Which leads me to my next point: did you know that European Cosmetics Regulations are much stricter than in the US? The EU has banned more than 1,400 ingredients for cosmetics! In comparison: in the US only 11 ingredients are banned in cosmetics (source: FDA)
Furthermore, the EWG estimates that, because of inadequate UVA filtering, most sunscreens sold in the U.S. would be too weak for the European market. Laboratory tests of 20 common U.S. sunscreens confirmed these findings: Only 11 of the 20 passed the European UVA test!
British researcher Brian Diffey evaluated the UV protection of four U.S. sunscreens and four sold in Europe, each of which had an SPF value of 50 or 50+. He found that the U.S. sunscreens allowed, on average, three times more UVA rays to pass through to skin than European products did.
According to many studies U.S. sunscreens aren’t as good as European sunscreens at preventing the more subtle skin damage produced by lower-energy UVA radiation. One study highlighted the potential for variability in SPF. When Procter & Gamble tested a competitor’s SPF 100 product at five different labs, the results varied from SPF 37 to SPF 75.
Within the past year, the European Commission has published preliminary opinions on the safety of three organic UV filters, oxybenzone, homosalate and octocrylene. It found that the levels of two of them were not safe in the amounts at which they are currently used, and proposed a concentration limit of 2.2 percent for oxybenzone and 1.4 percent for homosalate.
However, U.S. sunscreen manufacturers are legally allowed to use these two chemicals at concentrations up to 6 and 15 percent!!! Sunscreen manufactured in the U.S. use them at concentrations that far exceed the European Commission’s recommendations (source EWG).
Another point: did you know European sunscreen does never go beyond SPF 50 because it leads to a false sense of security? There is no sunscreen with SPF 100 available in the EU!!! And let’s be honest: don’t we all feel a little too safe when applying a SPF 100? C’mon! This really should be common sense, but I know! I also have picked up the bottle claiming a SPF 100 because it sounds so good, while barely protecting any more than a bottle with SPF 50.
The EWG goes even further and thinks that choosing a SPF higher than 50 may pose health risks because of higher concentrations of some ingredients, when they penetrate the skin and that they have been linked to tissue damage and potential hormone disruption.
SPF provides only UVB protection!
Did you know that the SPF only provides UVB protection ? It is quite ironic: we all are told to use sunscreen every day to avoid aging and wrinkles. But UVB protection does not do that!
The UVA rays are the ones that cause aging! (easy to remember: UVA for Aging- UVB for Burning) There’s only one way to tell whether your sunscreen provides UVA coverage: the words “broad spectrum.” But we have no way of measuring how much protection the sunscreen offers against those UVA rays! So, we reach for a SPF 50 and feel good about it- but it is only protecting against those UVB rays! Not against the UVA rays that cause aging and wrinkles! Isn’t this so ironic?
So, in conclusion: not only will a European sunscreen be a safer choice with less toxic ingredients (no matter if mineral or chemical sunscreen), but also the SPF in European sunscreen might offer much better protection.
European sunscreen brands that you can buy in the US:
3. Avène // Amazon
Here are Pros and Cons of Mineral & Chemical sunscreen:
Pros of Mineral Sunscreen
• Better for the environment/aquatic life/reefs
• Seems to cause less allergic reactions than chemical sunscreen- so maybe a better option for those with sensitive skin (though I recently had a bad reaction to a mineral sunscreen! Everything is possible!)
Cons of Mineral sunscreen are:
• We do not know if nanoparticles have a bad effect on our organs
• We do not know if manufacturers use forms of minerals coated with inert chemicals to reduce photoactivity.
• Do not use mineral sunscreen sprays- can be harmful to our lungs!
• Applying mineral sunscreen can be tricky, feels often thick, greasy, does leave (more or less) of an unattractive white cast
Pros of Chemical Sunscreen:
• Applies without white cast and spreads easy
• More studies available from brands that are around for many years, especially safer if a European brand
Cons of Chemical Sunscreen:
• Avoid potentially harmful ingredients such as Oxybenzone & Octinoxate
• More allergic reactions possible
• Do not use chemical sunscreen sprays- can be harmful to our lungs.
In conclusion: you have to outweigh your own pros and cons and do what feels right! Buy from a company you trust and choose what works for you.
Should you apply a sunscreen every day?
This is another question that I would have answered for many years with YES! But I have changed my mind! Why? Because of information that I read on the Australian Cancer Council. Even though the FDA recommends to apply sunscreen every day (even on a cloudy day), the Australian Cancer Council recommends using sunscreen ONLY on days when the UV Index is 3 or above.
And we all know the sun is worse in Australia! And why do they recommend this? Because the best source of vitamin D is UVB radiation from the sun! The Australian Cancer Council states: “In late autumn and winter in some southern parts of Australia, when the UV Index falls below 3, spend time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered. Being physically active (e.g. gardening or going for a brisk walk) also helps boost vitamin D levels.”
Can you believe it? I never thought about people suffering from vitamin D deficiency because of their daily sunscreen use!
From now on I check my weather App and if the UV level is 3 or below, I do no longer apply sunscreen.
The question really is: are we doing more harm by applying sunscreen daily than good? What are your thoughts? Share them below! I am curious to hear.
UPDATE: what a weird coincidence: a new study claims that zinc oxide becomes toxic after 2 hours- read here about it!
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