The “Natural” Sunscreen Debate

While we might be in the throws of winter, we all know that sunscreen is STILL a must. The sun’s rays might not burn you like they can in the summer, but they still cause skin damage that can lead to dry, unhealthy skin and even cancer. Don’t slowly evolve into a leather handbag and then have to spend thousands on cosmetic and dermatological procedures, for something that could have been prevented with an $8 sunblock.

If you were a religious news watcher, you might have previously seen Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company® received some flack regarding her sunscreen. Both parents and their children were claiming that they used Honest Company‘s sunscreen and still got sunburned. Much of the backlash resulted in some people making the conclusion that “natural” sunscreen doesn’t work as well as traditional ones. You might have thought: What’s a “natural” sunscreen? What makes it natural? Is it really unsafe to use?

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Never fear. Broken Down Beauty is here!

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Thank, Mariah. I can take it from here.

When the news stations, reporters, or whoever says “natural” sunscreen, they’re referring to mineral sunscreens, aka physical sunscreens. So natural = mineral = physical.

For a full, detailed breakdown of the different kinds of sunscreen, read my article here. If you want the too-long, didn’t-read version…

TL;DR – Physical sunscreens contain minerals that sit on top of your skin and block the sun’s rays but easily wash/rub off. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into you skin and scatter sun’s rays from penetrating more deeply but can leach into you bloodstream and leave the topmost layer of your skin compromised.

I’ve always been partial to physical sunscreens, because they don’t break down and become inactive over time like chemical ones.

HOWEVER… physical sunscreens aren’t so effective if you don’t apply enough of them evenly, or if you rub/wash some of it off. Got and itch on your forehead that you scratched it? You just scraped off some of your sunscreen. BAM. Burn. Wash your hands after you went to the bathroom? BAM. Burn. Sweat while playing volleyball and you wiped your face with a towel?…. You get it.

Physical, or “natural”, sunscreens are very “sensitive” in many respects. In my opinion, you really need BOTH types of sunscreen to get the BEST coverage you can get. Brands do make sunscreens with both physical and chemical sunscreens, but they’re rather hard to find. I actually layer a physical sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen every day. If you’re not about the layering life, here are some sunscreens with both physical and chemical filters for all your sun-fighting needs:

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Coppertone Water Babies Pure & Simply SPF 50 (any drugstore)

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Supergoop! Skin Soothing Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 (Sephora or

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To get optimal sun protection, look for a formula that contains the physical sunscreen Zinc Oxide and any mix of chemical sunscreens that have any of the crazy names like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate etc.

Titanium Dioxide is a physical sunscreen (aka the ONLY other physical sunscreen), but it doesn’t protect against both kinds of UV rays. It protects against UVB rays that cause burning and skin cancer, but it doesn’t protect as well against the UVA rays that cause aging. It’s okay if your sunscreen contains Titanium Dioxide, but make sure it ALSO contains Zinc Oxide. otherwise you’re not as protected as you could be.

So, natural sunscreens aren’t “ineffective” as many proposed, but, rather, they simply need to be used properly. To ensure your highest level of protection, I recommend using a combo of physical and chemical sunscreens. This will not only protect you from sunburns but also from developing signs of aging. In fact, using sunscreen early on has been shown to be more effective that not using it and trying to correct the damage with anti-aging serums and creams.

Don’t worry if you’re feeling like neither chemical nor physical sunscreens are really tickling your fancy. I get it. They both have shortcomings. We haven’t hit peak sunscreen yet, though. Researchers at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (say that ten times fast… then do a shot of tequila, and never say it again) are working on a NEW type of sunscreen that doesn’t absorb into your skin but also doesn’t easily rub off!

So no worries about chemicals seeping into your bloodstream, rays penetrating your skin, or accidentally wiping off your sunscreen. In fact, this experimental, lab-created sunblock lasts for a few days and only comes off if you wipe it off with a towel! They are experimenting on animals, however; so that technology will not be acceptable for those using strictly vegan or cruelty-free products. Beware, though, I can almost guarantee that at least one product you use that says cruelty-free, actually isn’t 100% cruelty-free.

Make sure you do your research!

5 thoughts on “The “Natural” Sunscreen Debate

  1. I’m all about physical sunscreens! I tend to break out from chemical sunscreens. Really thorough post on sunscreens – great note about including both TiO2 and ZnO for full spectrum protection. I’d be really interested about seeing where the new bioengineered sunscreen goes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely. Chemical sunscreens can cause breakouts. Often, though, it might be due to one or SOME of the chemical sunblocks in the formula. Since they’re most often formulated together, though, it’s hard to tell which one is breaking you out. In that case, mineral is A-okay! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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