The Truth About Chemical Sunscreens

By Minji

  • Is there such a thing as a clean and safe chemical sunscreen?
  • Maybe not 100% but there are definitely better and worse ones
  • The key is to read ingredients list carefully!

What kind of sunscreen do you use? It seems these days, most people are gravitating towards 100% mineral sunscreens due to health concerns that have been highlighted related to chemical sunscreens. Are you one of those people? And if so, have you found a mineral sunscreen you’re 100% satisfied with?

I’m guessing many of you are shaking your heads. As great as the thought of a clean 100% mineral sunscreen sounds, it’s easier said than done. First of all, it’s difficult to find a pure mineral sunscreen with a high SPF (my standard is 40 or above) that goes on smooth without leaving chalky residue.

That’s why despite the fact that in theory it would be so easy to just abandon all chemical sunscreens and only use mineral sunscreens, I still use both. The key is digging in a bit deeper, reading ingredients lists and making sure the chemical sunscreens you love don’t contain known irritants or allergens. I’m sharing my process with you here.

First, definitely avoid oxybenzone. It’s been linked to hormone disruption by numerous studies and known to damage coral reefs. EWG (a non-profit that rates the toxicity of ingredients found in skincare) gives it a score of 8, which is close to the highest toxicity rating they give out. As a side note, Soffli products only include ingredients with an EWG score of 1-2, which is the lowest toxicity rating they give out. 

Second, other ingredients to avoid are octinoxate (EWG score of 5) and homosalate (EWG score of 2-4). Animal studies have shown that octinoxate has hormone effects on the metabolic system and affects thyroid hormone production. Studies have found that homosalate can penetrate the skin, disrupt hormones and produce toxic breakdown byproducts over time. Both ingredients are known to damage coral reefs.

Lastly, avobenzone (EWG score of 1-2) and octisalate (EWG score of 1-3) should be better and many companies using these ingredients call their chemical sunscreens “clean.” However, keep in mind that the FDA has said that it considers only two ingredients, zinc oxide (EWG score of1-3) and titanium dioxide (EWG score of 1-3), to be safe and effective, based on the currently available information – both of these are mineral sunscreen ingredients.

So what’s a girl to do? My advice would be to try experimenting with mineral sunscreens to see if you can find one that works well for your skin type. However, if that’s not possible, I personally don’t think it’s too risky to incorporate a safer/cleaner chemical sunscreen into the mix.

Another incentive to use both is because chemical and mineral sunscreens protect the skin from the sun in totally different ways.  Whereas mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and block rays at the surface, chemical sunscreens absorb, then defuse the damage.  When you use both, it’s basically adopting a “belt and suspenders” approach.  Well worth it when it comes to protecting against skin enemy #1.

The bottom line is, do your research, experiment and find a routine that’s right for you!