Mineral Sunscreens: What They Are and Why They’re Better for Us

Did you grow up using (and maybe still use) sunscreens like Coppertone or Banana Boat? They’ve become household staples like so many other things, but I’m learning that these classic sunscreens include a number of ingredients that do anything but protect us. Thankfully, there are many wonderful mineral-based alternatives that are safer for us.

What are those harmful ingredients?

Some common harmful ingredients in sunscreen are Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, and Homosalate. Oxybenzone is linked to endocrine disruption and can cause an photoallergic reaction when (get this) exposed to sunlight. Octinoxate dissolves easily in oil which is why it’s in most formulas. It’s also linked to endocrine disruption and reproductive toxicity. Lastly, Homosalate absorbs UV light to protect our skin from direct exposure, but it is also linked to hormone disruption.

It’s all pretty sketchy and makes me wonder why, if these ingredients are so risky, they continue to be pumped into products?

Why are these ingredients being used?

There are a couple answers here. The first is that the FDA in the United States has not updated the laws for restricted or banned ingredients in our skin care and makeup since 1938, and the list is short. Furthermore, “Under U.S. law, FDA does not have the authority to require cosmetic manufacturers to submit their safety data to FDA, and the burden is on FDA to prove that a particular product or ingredient is harmful when used as intended” (fda.gov). Ultimately, companies have a lot of unsupervised freedom to put what they want into their products. Hence, the responsibility to ensure what we’re using isn’t harmful falls on the consumer.

Second, the percentages of these harmful ingredients is relatively low, usually between 6-10%, putting them into an “approved range.” You’re not going to see the damage these chemicals can do right away.

We are a species that expects immediate gratification or consequence if something is good or bad for us. If you eat bad piece of seafood and get food poisoning, that’s all you need to be cautious of shrimp moving forward. When you use a moisturizer and have an uncomfortable allergic reaction, it’s enough to keep you from buying that product again. You might even go as far as to study the ingredients and avoid them all in the future. But when the percentages are low, the product seems harmless. We also trust the industry not to put us in danger. So while using sunscreen with Oxybenzone, Octinoxate and Homosalate may never make you visibly sick, is it really something you want in your body if it’s avoidable?

What Can I Do About This?

Like I said at the beginning, thankfully there are so many wonderful mineral sunscreens on the market today! Mineral sunscreen is just that: sunscreen with minerals as its active ingredients. It’s also been called “physical sunscreen” because of the physical barrier it places between the damaging sun’s rays and our skin.

Look for mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

If you’re shopping for mineral sunscreens:

For more recommendations on mineral sunscreens, check out this Top 5 Mineral Sunscreens review by my friend Katie or this article by Byrdie here!

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