Chemical sunblock, mineral sunscreens, natural sunscreens – what’s the difference?
Using appropriate sunscreen is one of the most important steps we can take to protect our skin from potentially harmful UV-rays. At the same time, the product of your choice should preferably be free of any ingredients which can both affect our health and can also irreparably damage marine and other aquatic life. Remnants of sunscreen and the chemicals contained in them can reach vulnerable organisms when washed off while sea-bathing or when swimming in lakes and rivers.
Mineral or Natural sunscreen is therefore always better to choose over a chemical sunblock. Conventional sunscreens contain chemicals such as the nitrosamine-forming agents DEA. These form free radicals and react with the sun, which in turn actually increase the risk of skin cancer. There is also some uncertainty about the detrimental effects of Nano-particles on our health.
Oxybenzone is an ingredient of regular chemical sunscreens you can buy off the shelves. It is an endocrine disruptor and allergen and a cause for coral bleaching and coral death. Other ingredients such as Octinoxate, Homosalate and Octocrylene are also thought to have neurotoxic effects. Inorganic filters like Titanium Oxide and Zinc Oxide have much lower toxicity.
Top of the Range Products
With so many different products out there, it is difficult to know how to make the right choice. All of the below are unscented and free from SLS, Parabens and Phthalates.
1.Mustela – Baby Sunscreen
The Good Points:
I could find two in its favour. This sunscreen was the only one which is guaranteed to be safe to use from birth onwards. They say. It is also fragrance-free.
Mostly negative. This product is, unfortunately, neither organic nor actually a natural sunscreen. The only reason it made it on to this list is that I was desperately looking for a suitable product for very young babies. Looking at it, there is a very long ingredients list. Amongst it is the emulsifier polyglyceryl-2 dipolyhydroxystearate. Well, don’t even go there! And the tube isn’t specified as recyclable either.
With babies younger than six months, it is best to refrain from using sunscreen altogether if possible anyway, as only very few products are suitable for their delicate skin. It is always best to cover them in light clothing and to stay in the shade or indoors during the midday hours instead of slathering on the sunscreen. As it probably is for everyone.
2.Natural Skincare Company – Organii Baby
The Good Points:
Well, a few good points. This highly effective lotion has been specifically designed with babies and very young children in mind. As a UVA/UVB filter, it uses Pongamia Extract or pongamol. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are added including skin-moisturising ingredients. This product is good if you are looking for a higher SPF. It has an SPF50+.
Taking a closer look: not convinced! Some of the ingredients are not specified as organic. One example is the source of stearic acid on the list. Is it derived from coconut oil? Or is it palm oil? If so, has it been sustainably sourced? To account for its fluidity, the emulsifier polyglyceryl-3 polyricinoleate also appears on the ingredients list. These are all part of the mix I was seeking to avoid!
3.Green People – Organic children
The Good Points:
A little better than the above, perhaps we are edging closer. It is 84 per cent organic and is sold in fully recyclable and carbon neutral plant-based packaging. And as a bonus 30p are donated to the Marine Conservation Society from every tube purchased. It’s one of the few sunscreens that don’t inflict any damage on reefs and other marine life. It is also gentle enough for those with skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. It contains aloe vera, edelweiss and beeswax and is therefore non-greasy, water-repellent and scent-free.
Still a few question marks for me. This one is not entirely suitable for very young babies and if you are vegan you may object against the beeswax contained in it. It has a slightly lower SPF. Its SPF comes up to 30. The emulsifiers added here are at least all plant-based: Cetearyl Alcohol (Emulsifying Plant Wax), Glyceryl Stearate (Plant Derived Emulsifier), Cetearyl Glucoside (Plant Derived Emulsifier). But it still wasn’t what I had been looking for.
4.Shade™ – Natural Broadband Sunscreen
The Good Points:
Great stuff! This natural sunscreen has been tested to EU standards on human participants both in a laboratory setting and in real conditions. It is a broad spectrum SPF25 sunscreen. This sunscreen works with just 4 ingredients: Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, Beeswax and Zinc Oxide. It is about as natural as you can get. The limited amount of ingredients used is very appealing. No emulsifiers and preservatives (who needs them anyway?). The packaging is 100 per cent recyclable.
Only minimal negatives. The SPF is quite low. As it is an entirely natural product, you may find specks of the unrefined products or a mottled looking surface as the zinc oxide crystals clump together. This disappears as you apply it onto your skin.
Read more about this product and how natural sunscreens work on Not the Norm – Natural Alternatives.
5.Amazinc Skincare – Mineral Sunscreen
The Good Points:
Excellent! A mixture of Zinc Oxide, Magnesium Oxide and Lanolin protect your skin against the sun. It is very good if you are looking for a higher SPF. This is due to its unique combination of common minerals that are very efficient as UV filters. No emulsifiers or preservatives. The packaging is 100 per cent recyclable.
Only very minor ones if you are in nitpicking mood. Like Shade™, it is not vegan as it contains beeswax and lanolin and leaves a yellowish tinge on your skin when applied.
And what about SPF?
If you are using a sunscreen with an SPF of 25, you are increasing your skin’s natural protection by the factor of 25, which equals the amount of time you can stay in the sun without getting sunburnt. The effective protection is 96%, so 4% of harmful UV-rays are still going to penetrate the barrier and doing their bit of damage. Simply using a product with a higher SPF is not as straightforward as it may seem.
Non-chemical sunscreens do not contain any burn inhibitors, which means you are going to feel the burning sensation. Taking a close look at it, this is actually a good thing, as your body is signalling to you what’s going on. As soon as that’s happening, react to it by staying in the shade or covering up. Simply applying more sunscreen isn’t going to help. The importance of applying it thoroughly cannot be stressed enough, as you will need half a teaspoon full for an adult’s face.
The bottom line is: there is a limitation to natural sunscreen, but depending on where you are it may just be adequate (Scandinavia, Britain and Central Europe mostly, not so much the Mediterranean or the Tropics). Be mindful of other factors that increase the intensity of exposure, such as water and other reflective surfaces and high altitudes.
DIY Natural Sunscreen
And now we get to my favourite bit of this post. As a great DIY-project, why not try and make your own? This amazing recipe from Pronounce Skincare makes a safe and very reliable sunscreen without the nasties from just 5 ingredients! The result is a thick, buttery cream. This sunscreen looks quite white when applied but is very effective. The same effect described with the natural sunscreens occurs with your homemade product as well. It has no bearing on the goodness of it though. The main thing: we’re not out to win a beauty contest but to stay safe in the sun (and thereby preserve our good looks!).
And its SPF?
The higher the amount of zinc oxide you add, the higher your SPF. The Pronounce skincare recipe, if closely followed, is about SPF 20, as it contains about 20% Zinc Oxide. The coconut oil used also has a natural SPF factor, which adds to the efficacy of your homemade sunscreen. Jess from Pronounce Skincare advises the use of uncoated, non-nano, non-micronized zinc oxide for her recipe. Look here for a guide.
Is it suitable for kids?
I should think so. After we have tested it on ourselves, our now 16-month old daughter uses it too – without any adverse reactions. With a sunhat and long sleeves and the sunscreen, she has been safe and sound now that summer is in full swing (Yes, even in Scotland!). Needless to say, this one does not contain any emulsifiers or preservatives.
And the packaging is, of course, upcycled and recyclable – I use an old glass jam jar.
Have fun and stay safe in the sun!