There are two types of sunscreen ingredients that are used to protect your skin from UV rays. Mineral sunscreen, also known as physical sunscreen, and chemical sunscreen. The active ingredients in these two types of sunscreens act in different ways to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. The active ingredients in mineral sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Chemical sunscreen ingredients include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
Mineral sunscreens physically protect from UVA and UVB rays by sitting on the surface of our skin. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide in mineral sunscreens form a barrier on the surface of the skin that helps reflect these UV rays from the skin. They are not readily absorbed into our bodies, making them the only clean options. Zinc Oxide is considered more effective and safer than titanium oxide. Zinc oxide is also FDA approved for infants. If the sunscreen contains any other ingredients besides zinc oxide and titanium oxide in the “active ingredient” list, then it is also made with chemical sunscreens.
In contrast, chemical sunscreen ingredients penetrate the top layers of the skin to absorb UV rays. These ingredients are meant to absorb the damaging UV rays before they can damage the skin. Although the previously mentioned ingredients in chemical sunscreen have been deemed “safe” by the FDA, they have been under scrutiny for their efficacy and how much is absorbed into systemic circulation. According to Environmental Working Group (EWG), research shows oxybenzone is an allergen that is absorbed by the skin and is a potential hormone disrupter. Awareness has resulted in the decrease use of oxybenzone among chemical sunscreens.
“The good news is that the FDA has reaffirmed what EWG has advocated for 13 years: Based on the best current science, the safest and most effective sunscreen active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” said Nneka Leiba, director of EWG’s Healthy Living Science program. Click here for EWG article.