Summer Sun Guide: How To Choose A Natural Sunscreen

Let’s come clean: sunscreen should be applied year-round. But as we are in the throes of summer and your skin is basking under constant sun, protecting it from sunburn and UV damage is more important than ever. Slathering on sunscreen is the smart thing to do but with the abundance of SPFs out there, so many products are packed with nasties that can do more harm than good to your body’s largest organ. We’re talking about allergic reactions, premature aging or even skin cancer. Not all sunscreens are created equal and you ought to know! Take the time to read the ingredients list on the back of sunscreen products to find out which will work best for your skin. To help, we’ve highlighted all the main points to consider when choosing the best natural sunscreen for you and your loved ones.

Sunscreen: Should You Go Mineral Or Chemical?

There are two main sunscreen categories – mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreens (aka physical sunscreens) use mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Once applied, they work by sitting on top of the skin to reflect UV rays away from the skin. They also tend to be thicker and may require some effort to rub in properly. These are sunscreens that look chalky on the skin leaving white streaks on the skin. While mineral sunscreens are better for those with sensitive skin and less likely to clog pores because of their naturally-derived ingredients, they can rub/sweat/rinse off easily, meaning more frequent applications are needed.

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain active ingredients that create a chemical reaction and works to change the UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat off the skin. These sunscreens tend to be thinner and are easier to apply on the skin but require some time for the solution to get into the skin. These are the sunscreens whose labels recommend that you wait 20 or 30 minutes after application before going out in the sun! Because chemical sunscreens changes UV rays into heat, it is possible than you can see an increase in existing brown spots and discoloration with a higher internal skin temperature. Also, higher up the SPF chain (formulas containing SPF 50 or greater), there is a higher risk of irritation for sensitive skin types with all the ingredients trying to achieve a broad spectrum of UVA and UVB protection.

Titanium Dioxide: Yay Or Nay?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, using sunscreens containing titanium dioxide (found in mineral sunscreens) can help prevent the occurrence of skin cancer. When used in cosmetics and 99% pure, titanium dioxide is listed as a safe ingredient with no known adverse effects. However, research has unveiled that nano-sized titanium dioxide can be damaging to the lungs when inhaled, like applying mineral powder sunscreens, as opposed to sunscreen lotions and creams. Also, titanium dioxide doesn’t match up to zinc oxide as far as UVA protection goes, and it’s widely recommended to use both for UVA and UVB defense. So double up on both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and you’ll be set for suncreen.

Green Queen Tip: I use a brush-on powder sunscreen because it’s portable and easy to re-apply as I’m sweating through Hong Kong’s humidity. To get around breathing in mineral powder, I tend to hold my breath and avoid inhaling as I’m swirling my brush-on powder sunscreen over my face- just to be on the safe side. It only takes a few seconds and is so worth it!

Ingredients To Avoid On Your Sunscreen Label

  • Avoid Silicones: While silicone products give off that silky, luxurious texture and provide water-resistant qualities, think of silicone like plastic wrap- it’s basically a barrier on top of your skin. It’ll lock in the moisture, yes, but it will also be trapping dirt, sweat, bacteria and seriously clog your pores.
  • Avoid Synthetic Preservatives: Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in sunscreen and are linked to allergic reactions, hormonal disruptions, developmental and reproductive toxicity.
  • Avoid Petrochemicals: Petroleum-derived ingredients are used to make sunscreens feel more soothing and moisturizing (like petroleum jelly) but are known to block pores from releasing toxins and causing skin irritations and acne.
  • Avoid Retinyl Palmitate: Used in sunscreens because studies have found this form of vitamin A to be an effective antioxidant and gentle on sensitive skin, but when exposed to the sun’s UV rays, retinyl palmitate can increase the chances of developing skin aging, skin cancer and skin damage.

How To Apply Sunscreen

Whether you’re hitting the beach or running errands, here are some helpful hints to ensure you’re doing your sunscreen applying right. First off, ditch last season’s sunscreen – the active ingredients will no longer be effective. For optimal sun protection, use the sunscreen prior to the date listed. Be generous when applying the sunscreen on your body. For the ingredients to work up to its potential, a shot glass full of sunscreen should cover the whole body. Dot sunscreen directly onto the face (as opposed to squeezing it on the hands and then applying) as this helps to absorb the cream quickly and evenly. If you opt for chemical sunscreens, remember to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out into the sun. Mineral sunscreens work much faster so you can be out in the sun immediately after coverage. But it’s not a free pass! Make sure to reapply continuously.

Now that you know how to choose a natural sunscreen, here are the best natural sunscreens on the market!


Images courtesy of Pexels (lead) and Freepik.

Jenny Star Lor

Jenny Star Lor is Green Queen's resident wellness writer. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls Hong Kong home. She has worked for global publications such as The Hollywood Reporter and US Weekly. She is also passionate about pole dancing and teaches in Hong Kong.