Think all sunscreens are the same? Think again.
Natural sunscreens are your best bet when protecting the skin against sun damage, aging, and skin cancer.
Before proceeding, note that the beauty industry and science have different terminologies. As per science, everything is made up of chemicals: sunscreen, water, and you. But when we’re talking about ‘chemicals’ in beauty products, it refers to anything man-made or non-natural. So for these reasons, we’ll use the term ‘chemical’ and ‘synthetic’ synonymously.
The skin is the largest organ of the human body, and everything that we apply gets systematically absorbed in the skin. When it comes to sunscreens, users are instructed to apply them liberally and reapply frequently. Most chemical sunscreens use synthetic ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone to absorb UV rays; this can add up to a lot of exposure to harmful products, which is especially concerning for infants and small children.
So what is natural sunscreen? What’s the difference between natural and chemical sunscreen? Have you chosen the right sunscreen for your skin? Whether you’re looking for the safest sunscreen, need one that won’t irritate your skin, or just want to know why you should switch to a mineral sunscreen, we have it covered for you.
What is natural sunscreen?
Natural sunscreen, better known as mineral sunscreen, uses zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both to block and reflect the sun’s harmful rays away from the skin. Mineral sunscreens are also free from chemicals like parabens and phthalates, which can potentially harm the skin.
In the US, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the only natural sunscreen ingredients that are FDA approved. So when we talk about mineral sunscreen, we mean one that uses zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to protect you from the sun.
What’s the difference between natural and chemical sunscreen?
While natural sunscreen reflects UV rays away from the sun, synthetic sunscreen ingredients absorb UV rays which can create heat and irritate the skin. Mineral sunscreen is also known as physical sunscreen. The minerals form an incredibly thin, physical layer on your skin that acts as a shield and deflects the sun’s rays instead of absorbing them.
Mineral sunscreens also offer instant protection, unlike chemical sunscreens that take 15 to 30 minutes to absorb into the skin before they can provide complete protection. Also, mineral sunscreens don’t clog the skin pores and are better for sensitive or acne-prone skin. They are also more suitable for infants.
What are sunscreen ingredients should you look out for?
Apart from picking a sunscreen with an active mineral ingredient, it is important to take a look at the label to check the inactive ingredients as well. Make sure you avoid using sunscreen with the following ingredients:
- Mineral oil
- Octinoxate (AKA octyl methoxycinnamate)
- PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid)
- Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, or retinol
Natural Sunscreen checklist
Now that you have good knowledge about natural sunscreens and how they work. Take a look at this checklist to select the right mineral sunscreen.
Check for active ingredients.
Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide gives broad-spectrum SPF, protecting you against both UVA and UVB rays. Titanium dioxide, on the other hand, won’t protect you across the full spectrum and is most effective against UVB only, and so, shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone active ingredient.
Go for an SPF of 30 or higher.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend using sunscreens that are SFP 30 or higher. This ensures you get enough protection for a reasonable period of time. SPF 30 blocks almost 97 percent of UVB radiation, and SPF 50 blocks only a single percent more. After SPF 30, the protection is incremental.
Take a look at the other ingredients.
Just because a sunscreen has natural active ingredients does not make it 100% natural. The sunscreen could comprise of other synthetic ingredients as well. Just make sure the sunscreen you use does not have ingredients such as parabens. (see “list of ingredients to look out for” above)
Choose between a micronized or non-nano particles product.
A sunscreen labeled micronized, either on the front or in the active ingredients, will give you a product that feels more like a synthetic sunscreen. It absorbs more and leaves little opacity on the skin. On the other hand, a sunscreen labeled non-micronized or non-nano will leave a white film across the surface of the skin that you can’t rub in.
Some helpful tips when using natural sunscreen
- Make sure you are applying the recommended amount of sunscreen. Use a teaspoon or so on smaller body parts like the face, neck, and arms and two teaspoons for larger body parts like legs.
- Reapply at least every two hours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it takes only about 15 minutes to burn.
- Always reapply after swimming, sweating, or wiping the skin with a towel. Natural sunscreen tends to wash away quickly as it is usually free from sticky chemicals that absorb well into your skin.
- Choose water-resistant sunscreens for water-based activities. A moisturizer with sunscreen is great for everyday wear. Pick your sunscreen according to your day’s activities.
Can natural botanical oils protect you from the sun?
There are several natural oils that can give you an added layer of protection from the sun; however, they should not be used as a substitute for a mineral sunscreen. These oils will not provide complete sun protection as they are low in SPF.
Look for these natural sunscreen boosters for extra protection
Along with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, look for these natural botanicals to prevent and repair UV radiation damage and boost your skin health.
Raspberry Seed Oil
Raspberry seed oil is packed with vitamin A which repairs the skin cells and heals UV damage. The ellagic acid in raspberry seed oil promotes skin cell regeneration, an important factor to look out for when you have sun-damaged skin. Raspberry seed oil also contains vitamin E, an effective antioxidant that helps prevent premature aging.
Sesame oil is rich in antioxidants, neutralizing free radicals that cause premature wrinkles. It is a potent UV damage repair oil that heals sunburn, reduces dryness, and fades blemishes and scars. Sesame oil blocks about 30% of the UV rays.
Wheat Germ Oil
Wheat germ oil is an excellent source of Vitamin B, E, K, and Choline. This is great for moisturizing tissue and preventing free radical damage.
Carrot Seed Oil
Carrot Seed Oil is an essential oil with high levels of Vitamin A with significant antiseptic, antifungal, and antioxidant properties, nourishing the skin and decreasing the signs of aging. A compound called umbelliferone is found in carrot seed oil which absorbs UVB light.
Pomegranate Seed Oil
Pomegranate seed oil is an incredible anti-aging oil. It contains Punic acid, which helps regenerate skin layers, improve skin tone and elasticity, and reduce inflammation. It is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, which contribute to younger-looking skin. It is also anti-microbial, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory.
As explained above, these ingredients cannot serve as a replacement for sunscreen. However, these oils provide added sun protection and skin benefits.
Mineral or physical sunscreens are your best shield against sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer. Remember to make sun protection a daily habit and not just during the summer or at the beach. Consistent use of sunscreen is what’s going to give you the best protection. If you’d like any more advice on sun care, talk to our healthcare experts at DrNewMed.