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WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH SUNSCREEN? Chemical vs. Mineral (Physical) sunscreens in a nutshell

Put your sunscreen on! said your mother, and if she didn't, chances are you are now the mother saying those words day after day to your offspring. Same words that don't seem to stick in those busy heads of theirs. 
The jury is out when it comes to sunscreens, the pros and cons, why some are better than others, and the information is often confusing. Brands, "experts", real experts, influencers, share a wealth of information, some scientifically accurate, some mumbo jumbo, that often leaves you at odds. 
Our customers are often asking questions about the differences between physical and mineral sunscreens, so I'll try to explain, in brief but concise terms, those differences, and I'll tell you about my personal experience and preference.
And I'll leave you to go on with your life and choose a sunscreen that suits you best. There are a lot of resources you can consult on if you want to go down the rabbit's hole. And you'll find a list below. You choose where to stop.
The main difference is in the effect of the ingredients, and the way they protect you against UVA and UVB rays.
Chemical sunscreens
  • Chemical sunscreens act like a sponge
  • Absorb into the skin and then absorb UV rays, convert the rays into heat, and then release them from the body before they can damage the skin
  • Common active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate
  • They rub into the skin so there is rarely a white residue
  • Apply approximately 20 minutes before sun exposure
Mineral (Physical) Sunscreens
  • Mineral (Physical) sunscreens act like a shield
  • They sit on top of the skin and reflect the sun's rays. They’re “physical” sunscreens meaning they are a layer on the skin that protects it. 
  • Active ingredients: non-nano titanium dioxide and zinc oxide 
  • They start protecting as soon as applied onto skin
  • The zinc oxide or titanium oxide tents to leave a white residue on the skin 
Both mineral and physical sunscreens can have an SPF factor. In order to get an SPF factor, sunscreen manufacturers must undergo through testing and a regulatory process to get Health Canada's stamp of approval. The approval comes as either an NPN (natural product number) or a DIN (drug identification number), depending on the medicinal ingredients they contain. When a manufacturer has a NPN or DNI, it allows them to make certain claims on their labels.
Smaller brands that manufacture mineral sunscreens may choose not to undergo through the regulatory process with Health Canada. Mostly because it is long, and expensive, and they don't have the resources yet. This doesn't mean that the product doesn't work to protect against the sun, but it definitely means that they can't make claims on their website or labels that it has an SPF factor. 
Now, what?
Having said all of above, what options do we offer?
First of all, let me start by saying that we test all products we carry before we bring them into the store, and I take pride on the brands we decide to bring onboard after researching and drilling them on ingredients, formulation, packaging, bulk availability, and sustainable practices.
Now, all the options we offer for sun protection are mineral (physical).
- Living Libations Everybody Loves the Sunshine with Zinc is a delicious oil that has sea buckthorn and raspberry seed oil (the 2 most sun protecting ingredients found in nature) + non-nano zinc oxide. This makes it suitable for days of sun exposure at the lake, park, beach. I personally love this product, it is a higher price point but it lasts a long time, and you need a very small amount. I've been using it for the past 3 years on my kids (when I am around to apply it on them), and it's my go to for my face, shoulders, décolleté. The first time you have to shake the bottle very well.
- Green Cricket is our newest addition, approved by Health Canada with SPF30. It contains alcohol, but it’s not irritant. And it's available in bulk. 
- Green and Frugal Sun Protecting butter has no alcohol or water, just oils and zinc oxide. It's a great, very inexpensive alternative for kids and all over body. You can have several tins lying around the house. I put a small tin in my kids backpacks to take to school or camp (pre-pandemic times). It is quite thick, and a little goes a long way. Available in bulk. 
So, there you go. I hope this helps clarify things for you. And whichever product you choose, wherever you buy it, remember to apply it often, after swimming or sweating too much, wear a hat, and ultimately try to stay away from the sun :)


Global Solar UV Index. World Health Organization http://www.who.int/uv/publications/en/UVIGuide.pdf.
The Eco Well https://www.theecowell.com/podcast/sunscreen?rq=sunscreen
Skin Cancer Foundation https://www.skincancer.org/
American Academy of Dermatology

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