Sunscreen labels will often have “Active Ingredients” listed somewhere and then either “Inactive Ingredients” or just “Ingredients”. Confusing right?
“Active Ingredients” are the principal ingredients that protect your skin from ultraviolet rays (UVA/UVB) by either absorbing the UV rays, or reflecting the UV rays. “Inactive Ingredients” are essentially everything else that goes into your lotion. Look for great inactive ingredients that work super hard to protect your skin from damage, absorb free radicals, and are very healing such as Coconut Oil, Sea Buckthorn Seed Oil, Raspberry Seed Extract, Green Tea Extract and high oleic Sunflower oils.
I’m going to use the term ‘natural’, because minerals are not ‘organic’, and it’s these minerals that we rely upon to protect our skin from harmful UV rays. There are quite a few toxic chemicals that are too numerous to go through, that are used in sunscreens. If I don’t know what an ingredient is, I usually drop the product. I don’t we should all walk around with a chemistry degree just so we can assess what’s going onto our skin, and into our body.
When selecting your sunscreen, look for natural active ingredients like Zinc Oxide (non micronized), and Titanium Dioxide. These two ingredients are safe minerals used in combination to provide broad spectrum protection against UVA/UVB rays. Avoid products with Avobenzone, an endocrine disruptor, and Retinyl Palmitate (sometimes a label will display this as Vitamin A). This ingredient can actually increase your skin cancer risk in the presence of sunlight.
Why non-micronized zinc oxide? This is because micronized zinc oxide (nano-sized particles) can enter the body and cause harm. It’s used in formulas because it looks invisible (non-whitening) on your skin. There is a way around this whitening issue for your facial sunscreen. You can either mix it with a mineral foundation that will ‘tint’ the sunscreen, or apply it under your tinted moisturizer. Also you want to chose the non micronized zinc oxide in your sunscreen because it sits on top of the skin to deflect harmful UV rays. On a last, but an important note, micronized zinc oxide is really bad for the environment as it contributes to bleaching of our coral reefs by promoting viral infections (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2291018/). Not cool.