Chemical vs. Mineral: What’s In Your Sunscreen?

Summertime is fun time, and much of it is spent outdoors. School is out of session and summer vacations happen. It is when shorts and skirts are shorter and sleeves are become straps, or don’t exist. Sun rays beat down and if you are not careful you will get burned. This week we’ve been evaluating what’s in personal care products. Whether you are fully covered, scantily clad, baring it all, or somewhere in between, it’s time to discover…what’s in your sunscreen?

Ouch! It burns! It is beet red, hot to touch, and hurts like crazy. This information is too late. Some aloe vera or vinegar will help the sting.

Wise Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Now we’ve cured the pain, let’s look at how to prevent it in the first place.

Keeping skin cancer away is the goal, and sunscreens and sunscreens provide a protective layer between your skin and the sun. They can be broken into two groups: chemical and mineral. Let’s evaluate both.

Chemical:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Homosalate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene

Oxybenzone is common in chemical sunscreens.  It forms colorless soluble crystals, and provides UV coverage. It primarily function absorbs UV light, but research shows it also is absorbed by the skin and stays in our bodies for an unknown amount of time, but it is really no big deal, says one doctor.

Octinoxate is a clear liquid, insoluble in water, and used in sunscreen to protect skin from damage. It absorbs UV light and is permitted by the FDA in skin care formulas up to 7.5%, but it is okay to rub on our bodies because it is only cancerous if it used in higher amounts.

Homosalate is a hormone disruptor and endocrine disruptor. Japan restricted it for use in cosmetics, and it is a pesticide.

Octisalate is probably farther down the ingredient list because it is the weakest of the UVB blockers, and it does nothing to block UVA rays. It is paired with other more powerful blockers, or used as an emulsifier.

Octocrylene is an emulsifier. It doesn’t protect against the sun at all, but it does help the other ingredients stay stronger longer, and not breakdown as fast. It is an irritant and is absorbed into the bloodstream. Read more from The Dermatology Review.

If that is the bad news, here’s the good news. The mineral sunscreens are much better for the body because they don’t have active ingredients and do not get absorbed by the bloodstream.

Mineral:

  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Avobenzone
  • Mexoryl SL and XL

Zinc oxide is the EWG’s favorite sunscreen and the kind my personal physician recommends. It provides protection from the sun and has healing capabilities. That’s a win-win.

Titanium dioxide has come under scrutiny for being harmful to skin. It shows limited evidence of being a carcinogen. The FDA allows manufacturers to use up to 1% of it in products without declaring it on the label. Micronized titanium dioxide doesn’t penetrate the skin, and that’s the really good thing about it.

Avobenzone, when left in its purest form, absorbs the full spectrum of UVA rays. It’s biggest drawback is quick deterioration in the sun. Apply it often for effectiveness. When it gets mixed with other ingredients, it gets less than stellar reviews.

Mexoryl SX and SL sunscreens are highly effective because they don’t break down in sunlight. Until recently they were only available in Europe and Canada. It does not cover the full UV spectrum, so it is usually combined with other minerals like zinc and titanium oxide. They are regarded as long lasting, even up to 24 hours, through swimming and exercise.

Consumer Reports help us know products people have used and evaluated. When shopping for sunscreens it is good to know which products consumers valued with ratings. Here’s the list.

Best consumer rated brands above and ingredient comparison below, put them together when sunscreen shopping to avoid getting burned.

Here’s a chart for comparing sunscreens (click here, or click picture below for PDF version).

Sunscreen Chart

This is a small sampling of the sunscreen options you see in the supermarket. Which one will you put in your cart?

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Articles in the series:

What’s In Your Deodorant?

What’s In Your Toothpaste

What’s In Your Shampoo

What’s In Your Lip Balm?

What’s In Your Cup of Joe?

About the Author

Nicole Akers believes in this Marc Anthony quote, "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." She is a life-long writer. She is schooled in Creative Writing, Literature, British Literature, and Poetics. As an English major she honed her skills in Creative Writing, Journalism, Copy Writing, and even self published a book of poems. Today she is a Writer, Content Writer, and Blogger.