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Mineral Sunscreen: Is it the Safest and Which are Best?

You may have read about the many sunscreen issues as of late.  Last summer was the nanoparticle dilemma – do nanoparticle mineral sunscreens absorb through the skin into our organs and bloodstream, causing health issues?  And this summer it’s talk of Vitamin D deficiency due to “overuse” of sunscreen, or the increased risk of skin cancer from Vitamin A.

Health issues aside, there is the likability factor.  Too greasy, too white, too sticky, too stinky.  We have to like it to use it effectively.  And effectiveness is the whole battle here.  Your sun protection has to have the maximum protection factor and be used properly to work.

But a sunscreen’s sun protection factor (SPF) may be a lot lower than you think to get the job done.  With all of the out-of-the-ball-park SPF ratings on sunscreen products (100?) it may be a surprise to find out that somewhere between 15 and 30 SPF is suitable for almost anyone.

Use these guidelines to determine which SPF is right for you:

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).

Most of us do not apply nearly enough of a sun protection product at one time, and fail to reapply.  One ounce (that’s one shot glass full) of sunscreen per person is recommended, and remember to reapply after swimming, heavy perspiration or after 2 hours.

As for the mineral vs chemical debate and the nanoparticle issue.  Mineral sunscreens are safer than chemical sunscreens because they form an actual barrier on the skin, reflecting both UVA and UVB rays.  Chemical sunscreens take up to a ½ hour after application to protect the skin, and then sink into the skin allowing UVA rays to do the same.  UVA rays are the ones responsible for long term damage, like premature aging and skin cancer.  And, of course, your skin is also absorbing the chemicals used to make the chemical sunscreen.

Nanoparticle minerals are used to eliminate the ghostly white cast that mineral sunscreens can leave on your skin.  Studies done in both the US and Europe have shown little evidence to support the notion that nanoparticles enter our system after use of a mineral sunscreen.  And since mineral sunscreens are safer than the chemical version, and it seems the white after-effect turns most users off, coated nano is still a better choice than a chemical sunscreen.

The Vitamin A and skin cancer risk association is, as yet, unproven as well.  While Vitamin A holds many benefits for the skin, use caution with products containing Vitamin A when you plan to spend time in the sun.

And the Vitamin D deficiency concern?  Vitamin D is essential in keeping our bones and muscles healthy and immune system functioning properly. A little unprotected sun exposure daily is good for you (think 15-20 minutes).  But after that you had better apply sunscreen or cover up.  You know your skin, don’t let it burn!

Following is a list of the sunscreens that I have tried and like to use.  All are mineral sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and contain no Vitamin A.

Lavera is a veritable one-stop-shop for sunscreen, offering everything from an anti-aging facial sunscreen to body lotion and even a lip balm with sun protection.  My fave of the lot is the Sunscreen Spray Neutral SPF 20 UVA – super gentle and the spray bottle makes for easy application.  Lavera uses coated nanoparticle zinc in their sunscreens, and regular-sized titanium dioxide.  All Lavera sunscreens meet BDIH guidelines for UVA protection.

Erbaviva is a new addition to my stock this year.  Kirstin Binder touted this as one of her favorite sunscreens for face, so naturally I had to get some pronto.  (John Masters Organics is her other pick, but my aloe allergy prevented me from trying it.  If anyone out there has tried the JMO facial sunscreen, please let us know what you think.)  Erbaviva Sunscreen SPF 15 can actually be used on the whole body and is safe for children and adults.  And Kirstin is right, it is a remarkable product.  No whiteness, greasiness or sticky feel, absorbs right into skin and has a mild baby lotion-ish smell. This is the one I choose for the face, and my kids like it the best overall.

Soleo is a very popular sunscreen and for good reason.  It is safe and gets the job done.  Soleo is a bit on the greasy side, great for moisturizing sun parched skin, but I always wait to apply once we reach our destination so none gets on the car seats.  Soleo does not use nano zinc, but their “state of the art zinc technology” does eliminate the white coating.

Image:  – 7 at, Creative Commons license.

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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Audible Fabric and Designer Deborah Lindquist

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