Your sunscreen could be harming the environment — here's why you should switch to a mineral-based one

NIkhita Mahtani, CNN Underscored
Tue July 23, 2019

You probably know you should use sunscreen every single day. It's essential to protect you from the harmful rays of the sun, which can cause skin cancer and have been linked to other health issues including eye problems and weakening the immune system.

However, it turns out that the chemical sunscreens we've been using for so long may not be the best option. A chemical that's found in many kinds of sunscreen can seep into the water, where it's highly toxic to juvenile corals and other marine life. This affects their reproductive and growth cycles, and the corals become bleached. And some sunblocking chemicals are also absorbed by your body, which could be risky, although investigations about that won't be completed for years.

What to do? According to several dermatologists, cover up as much as possible with clothing -- and for sunscreen, mineral sunscreens are your best bet. They work differently from chemical sunscreens. The mineral sunscreens work as deflectors, physically blocking UV rays, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb the UV rays and release heat as they break down.

Mineral sunscreens don't seem to harm the environment. The only issue is that they can leave a white residue on the skin, which some people don't like. But these days, there are many options out there for all your summer needs, and our team vetted them to find the best ones for every occasion.

The prices below reflect the listed retailer's price on the date this article was published.

For outdoor activities:

Very affordable and ideal for sports, Badger Sport Broad Spectrum SPF 35 Sunscreen ($14.49; target.com) consists of five ingredients, all of which you can pronounce: zinc oxide, sunflower oil, beeswax, vitamin E and extra virgin olive oil. It's free of chemicals and parabens, and 98% of its ingredients are organic. This allows you to nourish your skin and protect it at the same time, while the sunscreen stays sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

For sensitive skin:

Mineral sunscreens can cause breakouts, which is why it's important to find an option that has soothing, hydrating ingredients that are still non-comedogenic. First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Pure Mineral Sunscreen Moisturizer SPF 40 ($30; ulta.com) is one of the best. It includes zinc and titanium oxides to fight UV rays, as well as oatmeal, oils and antioxidant boosters to hydrate and nurture the skin. It's ideal for skin that suffers from redness, dryness, or wrinkles.

For babies:

Babies' skin is way more sensitive than adult skin, and Coola Organic Baby Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 ($36; bloomingdales.com) makes sure to incorporate only the cleanest ingredients to protect it. Made for babies 6 months and older, this sunscreen is pediatrician-tested. It has over 70% organic ingredients and is free of parabens and preservatives. It's water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, which is great for baby beach days!

For acne-prone skin:

Hydrating sunscreens can be great, but if you have acne-prone skin, it's best to avoid options with heavy oils that can clog pores. Instead, dermatologist-approved EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 Sunscreen ($28; amazon.com) has a lightweight, silky formula that's oil-free, making it perfect for acne-prone skin, as well as skin that's prone to rosacea and discoloration. This doesn't mean it's not moisturizing, though. It includes intense hydration booster hyaluronic acid, to make it soothing for all skin types.

For the beach:

Beach days can be long, but Avène Mineral Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50+ ($28; dermstore.com) will have you covered for hours. It absorbs quickly into the skin, and includes a really unusual ingredient: thermal spring water. This is intended to help soothe the skin, calming it down after a long day in the sun, while the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide offer protection from the sun's harmful rays. It's water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and provides long-lasting hydration for those sweaty days by the water.

For makeup lovers:

If you hate applying makeup over your sunscreen, Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($34; sephora.com) can work as both, making it a two-in-one product you can stuff in your bag for busy days and travel. It's a creamy formula that spreads easily and doesn't have that distinct sunscreen smell. Even though it's only available in one shade, it blends so well that it works with a wide variety of skin tones. In addition, algae and sunflower sprout extracts are strong antioxidants, which help to neutralize free radicals and fight aging. You basically get a sunscreen, foundation and anti-aging cream all in one, which makes this item a total steal.