What is physical sunscreen?
Physical sunscreens utilize minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. These sit on top of the skin where they absorb UV rays, convert them into infrared heat energy, then dispose of the heat away from the skin. They work immediately and do not seep into the skin like petrochemical products.
Zinc oxide, extremely good at protecting against both UVA and UVB rays and significantly more efficient and safer than titanium dioxide, is the sole sunscreen active ingredient that’s FDA approved for use on infants.
(Most petrochemical sunscreens, even those marketed as “broad spectrum” products, are generally effective against only UVB rays, and not the deep-tissue UVA rays, because the respective chemicals meant to screen UVB rays actually photo-degrade those included for UVA defense!)
The key drawback to physical sunscreens is cosmetic, since they sometimes leave a white film, especially when applied more thickly or not rubbed in completely. However, properly formulated physical sunscreen can be spread to a thinness that is fully protective while being almost transparent on skin.
Since 1975 (when the petrochemical sunscreen industry began its explosive growth), Americans have increased their per capita consumption of sunscreens by roughly 300%. During that same period, rates of skin cancer have tripled. Obviously, safer, more effective sun defense products are vital in maintaining long term skin health.
Choosing a safe sunscreen can be confusing, and that’s why we created this Safe Sunscreen Guide — to help consumers make informed and safe choices before they head outdoors.
Using sunscreens affects the environment around us. Active ingredients found in all petrochemical sunscreens, frequently used at beaches while surfing, swimming and snorkeling, are toxic to aquatic and marine life.
Manufacturers of petrochemical sunscreens prefer not to consider this, but those petrochemicals leech from our skin into the water, where they harm, stress and even destroy coral reefs and other marine animals. Many of those chemicals feminize fish via disruptions to their hormonal systems.
In contrast, physical sunscreen ingredients cause no ill effect on natural water environments or the animals within them.
Other Ways to Stay Safe in the Sun
Safe physical sunscreen is just one component of a daily sun protection approach. The others are minimizing exposure through shade, clothing and time of day, and dietary choices.
Shade & Sun Defense Clothing
The simplest way to reduce sun exposure is to avoid peak sun intensity periods, which occur in the 5-hour window centered on midday. By seeking shade during these hours, sun exposure can be reduced as much as 60%.
Wearing sun-protective clothing and quality sunglasses is another effective strategy. When spending significant time outside (especially during peak sun periods), wide-brimmed sun hats, sun-protective clothing, and UV-blocking sunglasses are vital.
Sun Defense Foods
While safe sunscreens, shade and protective clothing are important, there’s a lesser known and truly effective type of sun defense tool — that is the nutritional component to skin protection.
It’s been shown that high levels of antioxidants allow our own skin to remove sun-produced free radicals, which are what actually burns our skin and causes long term damage. If this seems a bit far-fetched, check out the results of our field tests, and if you’re still not convinced, read up on the medical studies that show clear evidence of the link between antioxidant intake and sun protection.
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