Midsummer harvesting and planting

CHEMICAL VS. MINERAL SUNSCREENS: WHICH ONE IS SAFEST?

I recently saw a news report on which type of sunscreen is recommended for best protection and safety, and it lead me down a rabbit hole of research for about two hours. I’m a skin-cancer survivor, and taking care of and protecting my skin — especially as a gardener — is very important to me. Truthfully, I thought most sunscreens were created equal, and that the SPF number was the most important consideration. Turns out, I was wrong.

There are two types of sunscreens — chemical and mineral — and the differences are vast. While it appears that there are research gaps that keep the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) from making a definitive statement, here are some facts that I’ve gathered. Information is always a good thing, particularly when it comes to what you are putting in and on your (and your family’s) body.

Chemical sunscreens are applied onto the skin, and are absorbed by the skin to protect it. They include chemical ingredients that you probably can’t pronounce —  and while that may not worry some people, consider that your skin is your body’s largest organ, and what you put on it is important. Examples include oxybenzone (a possible hormone disruptor) and retinyl palmitate (a possible cancer cell accelerant). Chemical sunscreens also have a higher association with allergic skin reactions and even chemical burns. They need to be reapplied more frequently than mineral sunscreens.

Mineral sunscreens, rather than absorbing into the skin, reflect the sun’s rays. The main active ingredient is either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, both of which give these types of sunscreens their heavily pigmented white coloration. There are some mineral sunscreens that have a skin-toned tint, but that’s more of an aesthetic consideration. Mineral sunscreens do not need to be reapplied as often as their chemical cousins, making them more convenient.

For both types of sunscreens, there are conflicting reports about which one does a better job of blocking harmful UV rays. To feel confident about what you are using for you and your family, we recommend knowing the ingredients on your chosen sunscreen, always choosing one with an SPF of 30 or higher, and regularly checking websites like Environmental Working Group  for further research and recommendations.

And don’t forget — it’s always a good idea to cover up when possible. Wear long sleeved but breathable shirts, wide-brimmed hats, lightweight scarves, and a quality pair of sunglasses. Staying informed helps you make the best decisions you can for you and your family.

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