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How Chemical Sunscreens are Damaging Your Skin & Health

Sunburn by jeanieforever at, Creative Commons

And why mineral sunscreens are the best choice.

We keep talking about mineral sunscreens here on FGS. No doubt you’ve heard talk of them elsewhere as well. Even mainstream sunscreen brands are coming up with mineral versions.

So what is so great about mineral sunscreens?


The first thing we look for in a sunscreen is excellent protection. Whether you want a little (SPF15) or a lot (SPF 50), protection is the name of the game here. Why else would you use it?

Mineral sunscreens, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, provide much better protection against UV rays than chemical sunscreens. How? These minerals create a physical barrier on the top layer of skin, preventing UV rays to penetrate to deeper layers.

We now know that the two different types of rays we talk about with sun damage, UVA and UVB, have very different effects on the skin. UVB rays are those that damage the top layers of skin. The ones that give you a sunburn. UVA rays, on the other hand, reach deeper layers of skin. These causes long term damage, like wrinkles and skin cancer.

As you can see, it is very important to protect skin against both types of rays. Chemical sunscreens soak into the skin, allowing UVA rays to reach deeper layers. Mineral sunscreens guard against this damage. They also work instantly, unlike the 20-30 minute lag time you need for chemical sunscreens to start protecting your skin.

What is SPF?

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) number on a sunscreen determines how much protection that product delivers against UVB rays. European guidelines on sunscreens created in the past couple of years require broad spectrum (protection against UVA & UVB rays) sun protection, where sunscreens must provide at least one third of a product’s total SPF in UVA protection. This means that if a sunscreen carries an SPF of 30 it must provide UVA protection equivalent to an SPF of 10. While there are several European Union-approved chemical sunscreens that provide adequate UVA protection, mineral sunscreens are the safest choice.


Yes, mineral sunscreens are less toxic than chemical sunscreens and do not accumulate in the body. Chemical sunscreens have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body and are linked to hormonal imbalances. They also often cause skin irritation.

Chemical Sunscreens to Look for & Avoid on Product Labels

  • 4-Methyl-Benzylidencamphor (4-MBC)
  • Oxybenzone Benzophenone-3
  • Octyl-methoyl-cinnamates (OMC)
  • Octyl-Dimethyl-Para-Amino-Benzoic Acid (OD-PABA)
  • Homosalate(HMS)


You’ve probably heard some talk of nano particle mineral sunscreens. Some think they are just fine for and perfectly safe. Others feel that, due to their tiny size, they have the potential to be absorbed into our system and potentially cause healthy risks. Because nanoparticle sunscreens are still fairly new the official verdict is still out on their safety.

Why nano at all? Nano technology was put into practice with mineral sunscreens to diminish the white cast they leave on skin. I, for one, am not a fan of the ghostly glare given off by many mineral sunscreens and I am sure you aren’t either. Some newer sunscreens have managed to eliminate this whiteness and offer an invisible-on-skin option also free from nanos. Two brands to try: Suntegrity and True Natural.

Proper application

Ok, so you’ve chosen the safest and most protective sunscreen for you and your family. But it will only work if you use it correctly. What is the best way to apply sunscreen?

Fair skin – can stay in the sun 10 minutes before burning
Olive skin – can stay in the sun 15 minutes before burning
Dark skin – can stay in the sun 20 minutes before burning

Now multiply SPF by the number of minutes you can stay in the sun before burning. For example: (SPF) 20 x 10 (Fair skin) = 200 minutes (amount of time you can stay in the sun before burning if you have Fair skin and use an SPF of 20).

No sunscreen can be expected to provide adequate protection after 2 hours post application. Reapply more often if you are swimming or sweating. 1 oz of sunscreen per adult body is the going rate.

Choosing safe natural brands means no toxic emollients and artificial fragrance usually found in mainstream sunscreens. See my picks for this summer.

[Image by jeanieforever at, Creative Commons]

Written by Liz Thompson

I am an organic beauty expert, writer, and mom of two young environmentalists who can already spot a toxic product when they see one. Read more about me at Organic Beauty, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

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