Can I start this post with a rant?
Chemical-free sunscreens don’t exist!
Here’s the deal: everything is made of chemicals. Water? Yup, a chemical (H20). Olive oil? Made of chemicals. Your body? Hey, you’re made of chemicals, too!
Truth bomb: if it’s made of matter, it’s a chemical.
So, what’s the deal with chemical-free sunscreens? Well, somewhere along the way, chemical was confused with synthetic. Now, it’s sort of synonymous with “non-natural”.
That’s wrong. But, for the sake of clarity, I’ll use the term “chemical-free” sunscreens to talk about sunscreens that contain mineral UV filters.
Got it? Good.
So, what the heck are chemical-free sunscreens? How do they work and should you make the switch?
What Are Chemical-Free Sunscreens?
Well, if we want to be picky (and I do), the correct term is “inorganic”. That’s sciencey lingo for “it doesn’t contain carbon.”
There are only two UV filters that don’t have carbon:
- Titanium dioxide
- Zinc oxide
These two minerals are made of oxygen and metals. No carbon here.
(P.S. I don’t think the term “inorganic sunscreen” will catch on anytime soon, but “mineral sunscreen” is spreading fast. It’s a step in the right direction at least).
How Do Chemical-Free Sunscreens Work?
Lots of folks will tell you that chemical sunscreens work by creating a shield on the skin that reflects UV rays away from it.
I was one of those folks. And like the rest of them, I was wrong. Well, sort of.
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can indeed reflect SOME UV rays away from your face. But, they do absorb the bulk of them, turning them into a less damaging form of energy (heat). Just like all the other “chemical” sunscreens.
Are Chemical-Free Suncreens Better?
Imo, yes. Even though they work similarly to “chemical” sunscreens, there are two key differences that makes them better:
- They’re gentler on the skin: avobenzone, oxybenzone & co are famous for causing irritations and allergies, especially for people with sensitive skin. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide rarely do.
- They provide better protection: most “chemical” UV filters are one trick ponies, protecting you from either UVA or UVB rays. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide protect from both (zinc oxide does this better than titanium dioxide).
Where’s The Catch?
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are thick, white substances. They’re the reason chemical-free sunscreens are often thick and greasy and leave a ghostly white cast behind.
There are ways to get around this. If the white cast bothers you, you can opt for a tinted mineral sunscreen. Or if you want a lightweight texture, look for a sunscreen that uses nanoparticles (these are controversial, so it’s hard to find a sunscreen with this technology).
Chemical-free sunscreens are getting better, but they’re not still as pleasant to use as “chemical sunscreens”.
I still think it’s a small price to pay for better protection, don’t you?
If you’re ready to make the switch, check out my fave chemical-free sunscreens here.
Do you use chemical-free sunscreens? Share your experience and fave picks in the comments below.