Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreens-what's best?

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreens-what's best?

I was having my hair done the other day and someone in the salon said, “I’ll wear a hat, but I never use SPF.  I hate that stuff.”

She gave a little shudder for emphasis.

Of course, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

“You need to wear sunscreen too. It helps prevent skin cancer. You can still get sun damage from UVA rays.”

She gave me the look. As in what’s it to you. But she said, “I hate the way it feels on my skin. And all those chemicals. They can’t be good for you.”

She had a point. But skin cancer isn’t good for you either. This is important. So I kept going.

“Not all sunscreens are full of chemicals. Mineral sunscreens don’t and they’re not even absorbed into your skin. There are two basic types of sunscreens…”

Chemical sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens can be identified by looking at the active ingredients on the label. If you see oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, avobenzene, or octisalate, you’re looking at a chemical sunscreen.

All of these chemicals work by absorbing the sun’s UV rays, converting them to heat and releasing them into the body. They go on clear and are absorbed into the skin. And they work well.

Chemical sunscreens are more sweat and water resistant and come in many forms including lotions and sprays. While you might not want a chemical sunscreen on your body every day, they can be a good choice for a day when you’re at the beach (but please don't go in the water with a chemical sunscreen on), taking a long hike, or spending a lot of time being active outdoors.

There are some fairly big downsides to chemical sunscreens.

Some of the chemicals used in sunscreens have been shown to damage the ocean’s ecosystem, especially coral reefs. Some states like Hawaii have banned the use of chemical sunscreens for this reason.

For people, recent studies have shown the most widely used chemical sunscreens (the ones listed above) are not only absorbed into the skin -- they are absorbed into the bloodstream.

What this means remains to be determined. It may mean big problems or not.

Chemical sunscreens need to be applied at least 20-30 minutes before going out in the sun so that there is time for your skin to absorb them.

Because they transfer heat to your skin, they can be irritating for people with sensitive skin or rosacea.

They can also clog pores.

If you are going swimming in the ocean or other water bodies, or if your skin is sensitive or prone to breakouts, a physical sunblock is a better choice.

Physical Sunscreens

Physical sunscreens sit on top if your skin and are not absorbed. They work by deflecting damaging UV rays, sort of like a mirror, so they don’t damage your skin.

The active ingredients on a physical sunscreen label will list zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

All mineral sunscreens are broad spectrum. This means these minerals work to protect you from both UVB (the ones that burn) and UVA (the ones that do long term damage and prematurely age your skin) rays.

Because they aren’t absorbed into your skin they’re way less likely to clog pores or irritate your rosacea or sensitive skin.

They also don’t break down in direct sunlight like chemical sunscreens do, so their protection lasts longer.

The downsides of physical sunscreens are that they  tend to be more moisturizing and may feel heavier on your skin. Some mineral sunscreens may also leave a white cast (sometimes called ghost face). This problem can be overcome by tinting or certain formulation techniques. 

SunWindSnow’s mineral sun products are carefully formulated to go on clear. These are the best sunscreens we have found to protect your skin while avoiding the white tints that many mineral sunscreens can leave.

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreens- which is better?

May is skin cancer awareness month. One of the best ways to prevent skin cancer is to limit the amount of damage the sun can do to your skin.

Sunscreen is the biggest ingredient in prevention.

From what we know right now, skin cancer is way worse than sunscreen issues.

So what ever sunscreen you like and you’ll use every day is the right one. As you've probably figure out by now, I'm heavily in favor of physical mineral sunscreens.

However, for most of us, on most days, we’re not out in the sun as much as we’d like to be and are usually wearing clothing that covers a lot of our bodies. For these days, it makes sense to use a mineral sunscreen on the parts of your body that are always exposed to the sun- your face, neck, chest, and hands.

SunWindSnow has two lovely mineral sunscreens (one is a powder) that are perfect for these days. The bad news is that we don’t make a mineral sunscreen in larger sizes that are made to use on your body.

The good news is that there are more and more physical/mineral sunscreens meant to use on your body that come in larger size containers. There is even at least one zinc oxide based spray sunscreen (Sunbum SPF 30 spray). These are a great choice if you're going to swim at the beach, a river, or a lake).

In the end, I don’t know if I convinced the person at the salon that she needed sunscreen, any sunscreen, every day. I hope I did.

Whatever you choose, please choose to wear sunscreen on your always exposed skin (face, neck, chest, and hands) every day, rain or shine, clouds or not. Your skin will thank you.



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