There has been a boom in the availability of physical/mineral sunscreens, providing a wider range of choice for customers who aren't quite as happy with the chemical sunscreen alternatives. Chemical sunscreens have attracted quite a bit of controversy in recent years with focus on the health and environmental impact of the filters and other ingredients that they are made up of.
Take for example, Oxybenzone - a popular chemical filter that has been studied and linked to a number of unwanted side-effects, including harming the endocrine system; disrupting hormones, altering sperm production and has links to endometriosis. It doesn't just stop at harming our bodies; it is also having a negative impact on the environment, acting as a contaminant, accumulating in the sea where it is washed off of swimmers bodies in vast amounts.
Another example of something to avoid would be Oxtinoxate, another chemical filter used in sunscreens. Oxtinoxate has been shown to replicate the activity of hormones in the body, causing reproductive issues, as well as thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies. Or what about Retinyl Palmitate? This has caused a very sinister effect in animal studies, linked to the increased incidence of skin tumors.
It's not just the synthetic chemical filters in sun care products that are to be avoided. Other common ingredients found in a wide range of body care products are suspect, too. Parabens, for example, a common preservative in cosmetic products have been linked to unwanted effects, such as breast cancer (where large quantities of them have been found in breast cancer tissue).
For an extensive table of sunscreen chemicals to avoid have a look (and keep note!) of the table here:
Despite the evidence mounting on chemical filters, many companies continue to use them in their products as many customers unknowingly purchase them and potentially put themselves at risk - not exactly what sun cream buyer would naturally expect from a sun safety product!
There is, however, an alternative to chemical filters and that is a physical sunscreen. Physical sunscreens use either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide - two ingredients considered to be safe, environmentally friendly (they naturally occur in the earth!) and provide broad spectrum from the sun, which means it provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays (the rays that age the skin and the rays that burn!).
Physical sunscreens are designed to sit on top of the skin and deflect sunlight away, whilst their chemical counterparts are absorbed into the skin and absorb the sunlight. This is linked to further concerns founded in research that chemical filters accumulate in the body and cause problems. Research from the CDC revealed that 97% of Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone, after finding it in the urine of 2500 people who participated in the study. This isn't surprising when you learn that one of oxybenzone's roles is to enhance penetration of other ingredients - with health risks attached, this isn't something we necessarily want.
These days, there is a considerable range of effective mineral sunscreens to choose from. Sun protection doesn't have to come with a risk to your health or the environment when you are armed with the knowledge of what to look out for.