All sun creams aren’t the same—there’s a debate going on about which type is most effective and safest for the environment.
While it’s now well understood that ultra-violet rays can cause damage to the skin and that sun protection is an essential health issue, there’s still some debate about what types of sun protection are the most effective and healthy for adults and kids.
While no single product can offer complete protection from sun damage, it’s worth knowing that sunscreens fall into two main categories. Chemical types absorb ultra-violet rays, while mineral sunscreens, usually containing titanium oxide or zinc oxide, reflect the harmful rays away from the skin.
Zinc oxide paste has been used as sunscreen for thousands of years, but with the introduction of chemical sunblock, mineral types, though just as effective, fell out of use as they tend to leave white streaks. Also, they aren’t very suitable for use as sprays, as zinc oxide and titanium oxide can cause lung damage if inhaled.
However, modern nanoparticle technology has revived the fortunes of mineral sunblocks, which can now be made with smaller particles of reflective agents, leaving less visible streaking.
The British Association of Dermatologists recommends using sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of a minimum of 30, which blocks 97 percent of UVB rays. To put that into context, SPF 15 blocks 93 percent, and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent.
Ingredients in chemical sunscreens can cause significant damage to the marine environment, particularly coral reefs, and it’s estimated that 25 percent of sunscreen ingredients we use end up in the sea. Some states are banning the use of certain chemicals in sunblocks—Hawaii has implemented a ban on oxybenzone and octinoxate, effective from January 2021, and Key West in Florida has followed suit.
Other chemicals, such as octocrylene, octisalate, avobenzone and homosalate have also been identified as potentially dangerous to eco-systems, and there are suggestions that they can penetrate human skin and disrupt hormone functions.
On balance, it seems that mineral sunscreens offer the sensible choice for both health and environmental reasons—but if you’re not convinced, there are alternatives even to these, in the form of organic sunscreens made using seaweed extracts.
But perhaps the one argument that may sway you is that mineral sunscreens are effective immediately on application, unlike chemical sunscreens, which take around 15 minutes to be absorbed into the skin. When you have active kids who just want to get out on the beach, that might just make all the difference to your choice of sunscreens!