As we’re all well aware, the ultra violet, better known as UV, rays from the sun can be as damaging as they’re mood boosting. So sun protection is key, including hats, sunglasses and chemical vs mineral sunscreen.
The sun is beneficial in that it helps us produce vitamin D, supporting strong teeth and bones, a healthy immune system and good mental health.
However, too much sun exposure and we risk sunburn, sun damage, wrinkles, sun spots and even the possibility of skin cancer.
So, how do we balance our wants and needs for sunlight with staying safe and protected in the sun?
Sun protection is certainly key. But that doesn’t necessarily mean reaching for the SPF 30 and thinking nothing more of it. (And it definitely doesn’t mean slathering on the factor 2 carrot oil like we all did in the 1990s, even if we’re benefiting from a UK based staycation.)
There's a lot more at play, including how ‘healthy’ SPFs can be, or not be, to us and the planet. You may have heard about mineral sunscreens, as opposed to the ‘normal’ chemical based sunscreens available in chemists and supermarkets. What are chemical vs mineral sunscreens and are mineral sunscreens any better?
Here’s the Sönd lowdown on chemical vs mineral sunscreens…
Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen - What’s the Difference?
The chances are, you’ve used a chemical sunscreen at some point in your life. They’re the ones that are widely available here in the UK and that adorn the shelves of the shops that are dotted along Mediterranean sea front shops, dusty with sand. (Including those low factor, oh so tempting on the last two days of the holiday, sun oils.)
Sometimes known as synthetic sunscreens, they generally contain active ingredients such as octinoxate, octisalate, oxybenzone and avobenzone.
When sunlight is absorbed by the skin, if you’re wearing one of these sunscreens, the chemical active ingredients trigger a chemical reaction. The UV light is then converted into heat which is then dissipated away from the skin.
Mineral sunscreens, sometimes referred to as physical sunscreens, work entirely differently and contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
These are tiny mineral particles that sit on top of the skin and physically deflect UV rays, scattering them away from the skin.
But is mineral or chemical sunscreen better?
What Are the Pros and Cons of Chemical Sunscreen?
We’re not here to tell you to use one type of sunscreen over the other. Instead, we’re here to give you the facts so that you can make your own decision.
So here’s the pros of using a chemical sunscreen:
- Depending on the SPF, or sun protection factor (most recommendations are for an SPF of at least 30), you’re protected from the sun and will burn 30 times (if using an SPF 30) slower than if you had naked skin
- They’re thinner than mineral sunscreens and therefore are absorbed by the skin more easily and tend not to feel greasy
- They sometimes contain extra skin boosting ingredients
- They’re easy to use, readily available and often cheaper than mineral sunscreens
However, the cons of using a chemical sunscreen are as follows:
- The very nature of how they work means that they’re absorbed into the skin and some of the active ingredients are now being called into question with potential links to skin allergies and irritations, hormone disruption (which can lead to fertility problems and developmental issues) and a possible increased risk of endometriosis and breast cancer
- They’re thought to remain in the blood system and can be detected in the urine and breast milk days after application
- They’re damaging to coral reefs if we wear them and then go sea swimming (more on that below)
- They need to be applied around 30 minutes before sun exposure so require some forward planning
- They need to be reapplied frequently as sunlight actually breaks them down rendering them ineffective over time (hence the need to keep reapplying)
How About the Pros and Cons of Mineral Based Sunscreen?
So, is mineral sunscreen better? To provide a balanced account of both types of sunscreen, here’s the pros and cons of using a mineral based sunscreen as an alternative to a chemical based one…
The pros of mineral based sunscreens:
- They’re not absorbed into the skin and don’t contain ingredients that have been linked to certain health concerns (see above)
- They won't cause skin allergies or irritations
- They work to protect the skin as soon as they’re applied
- They’re not damaging to coral reefs
- They provide a like for like level of sun protection when compared to chemical sunscreens of the same SPF
- They’re more photostable than chemical sunscreens and aren’t degraded by sunlight exposure and therefore need to be reapplied less frequently
The cons of mineral sunscreens:
- Since they sit on the skin, they may feel heavy and can stain clothing (think of cricketers with white creams adorning the noses - they’re mineral sunscreens, but you don’t have to apply them so thickly!
- They’re often more expensive and less easy to find in mainstream shops than chemical sunscreens
- They can wear off more easily with friction, such as rubbing your skin with a towel or by sweating and may need to be reapplied more frequently if you’re particularly prone to friction or sweating…
Are mineral based sunscreens better? We hope this list of pros and cons of chemical vs minerals sunscreen helps you decide.
Are the Rules on Sunscreen Different in the UK and Europe vs America?
Yes, sunscreens for sale in the UK and Europe are subject to EU laws (UK laws pending, post Brexit) whilst those sold in the US are subject to Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, laws.
The SPF rating of a sunscreen refers to how well it protects the skin from UVB rays, the UV rays responsible for skin burning. UVA rays, whilst less damaging in terms of sunburn, are responsible for skin ageing. Both UVA and UVB rays can lead to different types of skin cancer.
EU laws dictate that sunscreens sold in EU countries must have UVA protection of at least one third of the products’ UVB rating. The FDA imposes no such rules, so most US based sunscreen manufacturers are unable to sell their products in the UK and Europe.
The EU also has more approved substances that can be used in sunscreens than the US (27 vs 16) and these are all relevant to chemical sunscreens only. But the problem with some of these chemicals reaches far further than just our own health…
Is There an Environmental Consideration too?
Yes, there most certainly is. And if you’re eco minded, you may already be aware of the damaging effects of chemical sunscreens on the planet, specifically, on coral reefs.
We’d all be forgiven for thinking that Hawaii was a laid back country, without many stresses and strains to worry about, just cocktails and beaches. But far from it.
This country proved to be forward thinking in terms of science and climate change back in 2018 when it became the first country to ban chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.
Key West in Florida and the Pacific nation of Palau are following suit.
This is because these two chemicals, the most commonly used in chemical sunscreens, have been found to have a devastating effect on coral reefs.
When we slather ourselves in these sunscreens and then go for a dip in the sea, they get washed off into the world's oceans. At an alarming rate - an estimated 14,000 (US) tons per year. And that’s without the sunscreen that’s washed off down the shower drain at the end of a hard days’ sunbathing, even if we haven’t gone swimming.
Or the spray on versions that get sprayed all over the beaches of the world whilst trying to cover excited, sea salty, ice creamy, slippery children with SPF.
The problem is, these chemicals are then absorbed by corals. There, they’ve been found to cause changes in their reproduction cycles and cause coral bleaching and the death of entire marine ecosystems.
It’s now thought that the bans should extend to include other, so called ‘reef safe’ sunscreens that include other chemicals. So to us, that's reason enough to use mineral sunscreens over chemical versions. (Even though we’re still not telling you what to do, merely advising.)
How Do I Best Protect Myself from the Sun?
The Sönd day time moisturiser, our Calming Hydration Day Cream (previously known as our Sidekick Day Cream) doesn’t contain any SPFs, neither chemical or mineral. In fact, none of our skincare products have an SPF in them. We chose to leave it out so that you can decide whether or not you’d like to add one to your skincare regime.
If you choose to, and it’s entirely your choice, then add either add it after your final skincare step in the morning or add a few drops to your face moisturiser before applying. If you’re in direct sunlight, then don’t forget to reapply regularly.
On the other hand, if you’d rather not use an SPF on your face or your body, then it’s important to stay protected from the sun in other ways, even if it’s a cloudy day or you’re in the UK. Here’s our tips (that are also advisable even if you’re wearing an SPF):
- Avoid being in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day, which is usually between 11am and 3pm (from March to October)
- Wear a wide brimmed hat to protect your scalp, hair and face
- Wear dark tinted sunglasses with a Category Rating of 2 or 3 (prescription sunglasses are also a good option if you wear glasses)
- Wear loose fitting, long sleeved, long legged clothing if you’re going to be outside for a long time - choose natural, breathable fabrics such as cotton or hemp to help keep you cool
If in doubt, make like an Australian and slip, slop, slap - slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat. (If you’re choosing to wear sunscreen.) Since this iconic song in the 1980s, it’s been amended to include seek and slide - seek shade or shelter and slide on some sunglasses.
Plus, don’t forget your scalp! If you have fine or blonde hair, or you have thinning or no hair at all, then your scalp also needs to be protected. A hat is best, be that a trendy trucker cap or a boho floppy straw hat. But if you wear sunscreen, invest in a non oily spray for your scalp.
Oh, and for the sake of your whole body, including your skin, don’t forget to stay well hydrated. Especially so if you’re indulging in a rosè wine or an Aperol spritz at lunch time.
Whether you’re choosing a chemical or mineral sunscreen, there are some things to keep in mind. Make sure you choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection with an SPF of 30 or above. If you know you’ll be sweating a lot or in and out of water, opt for a water resistant one.
As a bonus, a broad spectrum chemical or mineral sunscreen has been shown to help slow down the effects of ‘photo ageing’ or sun related skin ageing.
Also, more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. Higher end, higher priced chemical or mineral sunscreens often have added skin benefits, such as moisturising agents or antioxidants. These are great, but can easily be applied to the skin with your regular skincare anyway.
The Need for Sun Protection, Whatever You Decide
One thing is certain - our skin needs to be protected from the harmful effects of UV rays. So whether you choose a chemical sunscreen or a mineral version or you prefer to go without and use physical protection and avoidance tactics instead, make sure you stay sun smart and sun safe.
For everything else skincare wise, there’s the Sönd range of skin loving, hydrating, nourishing alkalising skincare products.
And if anyone has any tips on using a laptop outside, please do let us know…
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.