We all know how important sunscreen is. It protects us from harmful UV rays, pollution, damaging free radicals, and even helps to halt the ageing process of the skin. But despite the fact that more and more of us are recognising the necessity of sunscreen, there remains a lot of confusion surrounding its terminology, particularly when it comes to labels such as ‘non-nano’ and ‘reef-safe’.
We want to try and demystify these terms and help arm you with the information you need to make an informed sunscreen choice, one that is right for you and for the environment.
Mineral vs. Synthetic Sunscreen
The main difference between mineral and synthetic sunscreens is the way in which they protect against UV rays.
Synthetic sunscreens work at a cellular level, using chemical filters to convert UV rays into heat which then dissipates from the skin. It's been suggested that the ingredients used in these formulas (i.e. Oxybenzone, Homosalate and Avobenzone) can pose certain risks to human health, as well as the environment. It's also worth noting that synthetic sunscreens can also be more likely to cause reactions in those with sensitive skin.
Mineral sunscreens on the other hand protect at a surface level, using small particles to sit on the skin’s surface and physically prevent UV rays from penetrating the skin. This is why they are often associated with that dreaded white film - because the formula works by essentially coating the skin in a protective layer. Ingredients such as Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide frequently used in mineral formulas are widely considered to be both safe and effective.
What is a nano particle?
A nanoparticle is generally agreed to mean a particle typically less than 100 nanometers (nm) in diameter in size. Synthetic sunscreens use these particles in their formulations in order to be able to function at a cellular level. However, nanoparticles can also be present in mineral sunscreen as they’re used to help increase skin coverage and reduce the appearance of that opaque white film, without compromising on the UV coverage.
The concern with nanoparticles is that their ‘nano’ size allows them to enter the bloodstream and harm living tissues. This however has been disputed in many scientific studies, with some suggesting that when used within lotions or creams, nanoparticles actually bind together, creating much larger molecules that are far too large to penetrate the skin. If you wish to avoid nanoparticles in your sunscreen, simply filter our SPFs by ‘non-nano’ to find the right formulation for your needs.
What makes a sunscreen ‘reef-safe’, and why is it important?
Up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen are estimated to wash into coral reefs around the world each year. In a 2016 study, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that baby coral exposed to common sunscreen ingredients Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, showed signs of coral bleaching and DNA damage. These chemicals have also been linked to a widespread decline in coral populations which then also has a significant impact on the marine life that depends on these habitats.
At present, there is no official definition of the term ‘reef-safe’, but it’s widely agreed to refer to a formula being free from Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. In 2018, Hawaii became the first US state to ban the sale of products containing these two ingredients, with other states showing signs of following suit. In addition to this, a lot of sunscreen manufacturers have taken the action to exclude these ingredients from their products in an attempt to protect these delicate underwater ecosystems. We wanted to support this effort in the best way we could.
While research is ongoing, we believe that the existing evidence is substantial enough to warrant action from our side. We have therefore made the decision to only stock ‘reef-safe’ sunscreen on our site, and will no longer accept any products containing Oxybenzone or Octinoxate.
Whilst we want to provide as extensive and varied a range as possible on our site, we also think it’s important to take a stance and enact positive change wherever possible. We believe there should never be a compromise between your health and that of the environment.