Mineral sunscreens are not only better for the environment, but as Zaidan points out, likely safer for your body (from what we can tell of the available research). Mineral—sometimes called physical and inorganic sunscreens—options actually work similarly to what we call “chemical” sunscreens, but it just seems they are more effective at it.
“There’s this idea that ‘physical sunscreens’ reflect sunlight like a mirror is a misconception. They do a little bit of scattering sunlight, but their main mechanism is to absorb UV light and turn it into heat which isn’t damaging to your DNA,” says Zaidan. These options come in two forms: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Now, you may have seen the recent report showing that the carcinogen benzene was found in several SPFs on the market (says Zaidan: “It’s not great!”). So if you would like to be abundantly cautious about selecting your SPF option, Zaidan suggests the following.
“First, you could go off this benzene list and pick ones that aren’t shown to be contaminated. Then you can pick an inorganic sunscreen—so zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” he says. “In 2019, the FDA put out a proposed rule on sunscreen saying that ‘chemical’ ingredients—oxybenzone, avobenzone, anything that ends with an ‘one’—are not generally recognized as safe and effective, which is just the FDA’s way of saying pump the breaks a bit here.”