When it comes to the ingredients in our skincare products, we have to be especially careful nowadays. With buzzwords like “organic” and “all-natural” floating around as more of sales terms than actual representations of their products, doing some research is almost a necessity.
We’ll try not to bore you with too much chemistry jargon, but technically “organic” really only refers to carbon-based chemicals. Some examples that are found in sunscreen are:
These work to fight ultraviolet radiation and protect your skin from potential harm. However, organic doesn’t always mean that it’s safe. Organic chemicals or compounds can be carcinogens — so just because something uses a buzzword like “organic” doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Common sunscreen ingredients that have barrier-chemicals such as zinc or titanium aren’t considered organic. These are creatively called inorganic, simply because they’re not carbon-based.
So when us regular ole sunscreen user see terms like “organic” on their products, why wouldn’t we think that they are indeed organic? Well, companies have gotten around this by referring to the presence of barrier-chemicals like zinc or titanium partnered with less harmful ingredients (or just fewer ingredients in general). Basically, these are non-toxic but aren’t technically organic. They are healthy, but the buzzword more realistically refers to their impact on the environment than your skin.
Ok, wow. So, we hope that wasn’t too confusing because it confused us at first. Who would have thought high school chemistry would be so useful when trying to understand which sunscreen we should use?
There is a lot to be said about organic sunscreens. Traditional sunscreens aren’t just icky because they have a ton of chemicals in them, they also have loads of other ingredients that aren’t so great as well. Fragrances, parabens (which disrupt hormone function), phthalates, and a bunch of ethoxylated ingredients are all abundant in a ton of classic sunscreens. These are what we would consider being at odds with other non-toxic ingredients that are far better for your skin when fighting off harmful rays.
So, if we revisit even some of the organic ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate, we should mention that these are both allergenic and estrogenic. While they may not negatively affect everyone, those that are susceptible should be hyper-vigilant.
Physical sunblocks or sunscreens quite literally create a physical barrier between your skin and the sun. It sits on top of the skin and deflects the harmful rays away from your skin. We mentioned some barrier-chemicals like titanium and zinc earlier, and these are popular ingredients in many sunscreens.
You’ll likely find zinc in more and more of your “organic” or “all natural” sunblocks because it protects against both UVB and UVA rays. Titanium protects mostly against just UVB.
So, how do these barrier sunscreens compare to chemical sunscreens? Well, if we think of barrier sunscreens as quite literally creating a physical blockade between your skin and the sun — chemical sunscreens act more like a filter. They work to breakdown the harmful rays to protect the skin. As you could imagine, they don’t always work as well because tiny particles (nanoparticles) still get absorbed into the skin.
We mentioned the presence of oxybenzone as an organic compound, and it’s a popular ingredient in chemical sunscreens. The problem is that this chemical can possibly disrupt hormone cycles by acting like estrogen.