The Differences Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreens

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Not all sunscreens are created equal.

Lots of sunscreens today are made with harmful ingredients. Some of these may have negative effects on those that use them or cause damage to our environment.

The best sunscreen decision you need to make

But over the past few years, a new attitude toward sunscreen protection has developed. Increased awareness is helping to return natural sun protection solutions to shelves everywhere… and have the added value of being harmless to the environment. Because if it’s damaging to the environment, it’s probably also harmful to the human body.

Knowing the difference is important to customers of both Bodhi Surf + Yoga and Jungle Mama Naturals. After all, we both live, play, and work in Costa Rica, one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Protecting it is one of our top priorities as both businesses and individuals.

Protect your skin in Costa RIca

Learning that there is difference

So to understand the basics of what’s found on shelves today folks need to know the difference of two critical product categories:

  1. Chemical/“traditional”
  2. Mineral/physical

After you read this, we’re sure you will choose mineral sunscreen products from this point forward.

Chemical sunscreens are those you’ve probably been buying for years. They line store shelves. They’re mass-marketed, and have wide appeal because they are sold as being protective against the sun’s harmful rays (which we know can cause a host of issues, the most scary being skin cancer). These products have also been appealing to consumers, because when applied, they absorb into the skin leaving it free of ghostly whiteness — much more aesthetically appealing. However, they have been shown to be harmful to the health of humans and our environment.

At a certain point, the folks that read ingredients and do their own research began to realize just what was being put in those tradition sunscreens. Unfortunately, most of the prominent products are full of chemicals. Now to be fair, not all chemicals are harmful — for context, water is a chemical, and so is just about anything on this planet. So when you look at the ingredients in chemical sunscreens, you may find it confusing.

Chemical sunscreen label

Photo c/o Wiki Commons

What are chemical sunscreens?

Chemical sunscreens use chemical UV filters that work by absorbing the sun’s rays. These soak into your skin and into your bloodstream. Chemical sunscreens tend to be lighter, easier to apply and generally do not leave a white cast on your skin. Once chemical sunscreens come in contact with UV rays, they begin to break down thus the need to reapply often. These chemicals can become photo-toxic causing skin irritations or allergic reactions.

One such harmful chemical is oxybenzone. Many different studies have shown that oxybenzone is toxic to the reproductive system, and is linked to endometriosis. It has also been shown to cause endocrine disruption in coral, which can lead to coral bleaching and death, posing vast environmental problems for our oceans and the health of our planet.

Other chemical ingredients of concern and found in mass-produced, chemical sunscreens are:

  • Octylcrylene
  • Avobenzone
  • Octisalate
  • Homosalate
  • Helioplex
  • Mexoryl SX and XL
  • Tinosorb S and M
  • Uvinul T 150
  • Uvinul A Plus
Coral death due to sunscreen

Photo c/o NOAA

What are mineral sunscreens?

Thankfully, there are other sunscreens available that are safe for both humans and the environment. These are known as mineral, or physical sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens use physical filters such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreens protect your skin from the sun by sitting on top of the skin, deflecting or blocking the sun’s rays.

Mineral sunscreens remain on the skin’s surface giving instant protection upon application. Zinc oxide is photo-stable, which means the sunscreen will not lose its effectiveness an hour after it is applied. Because it is not absorbed into the skin, it tends to leave a white cast after application. It is a bit thicker than its chemical counterparts.

Zinc oxide is safe for human application — it can be used on sensitive skin, and is the main ingredient in diaper rash creams, so it’s even safe for infants. It protects against the entire spectrum of UVA and UVB rays. Unlike traditional sunscreens, zinc oxide doesn’t break down or become unstable. That’s because it doesn’t absorb the sun’s rays — it reflects them. It is also considered ocean/reef safe as it’s a powdered mineral, and will settle to the bottom of the ocean like silt.

Mineral sunscreen from Costa Rica


Working together for the health of ourselves and the planet

As you can see, not all sunscreen products are the same. And today there are safer sunscreen options for those who want the best for their families… and our environment.

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Protecting its health and beauty is paramount to its future. And here in Costa Ballena, we are doing our part to help our country and our customers. At Jungle Mama Naturals, we align ourselves with those who have similar objectives — one company is Bodhi Surf School, and we’re proud to be working together to promote low-impact solutions for the wellbeing of our community and the ocean.

By Jungle Mama Naturals

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Guest Post

The article is from a guest contributor. If you would like to contribute on the Bodhi Surf + Yoga blog, please email us at [email protected]

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