Do Natural SPF Ingredients Work?

More consumers than ever before are focused on buying skin and personal care products with “natural” ingredients. Sixty-seven percent of consumers aged 18 to 29 and 59% of consumers aged 30 to 59 report preferring natural or organic skincare products, according to a 2017 survey

However, there are some concerns with this trend toward products labeled as “natural,” especially when choosing a sunscreen. Firstly, there are no FDA regulations that describe what a product must contain (or not contain) in order to be called “natural.” Secondly, sunscreens need to be formulated in such a way that the SPF listed on the bottle is actually the protection you are getting when you apply the proper amount. 

So before you reach for a homemade SPF recipe or other “natural” alternative to sunscreen, here are the facts you need to consider.

What Does “Natural” Really Mean?

The truth is, there is not a single definition for what this term means in skincare. Dermatologists do not use it to describe sunscreens or other products, as there are no regulations as to what makes a product or ingredient “natural.” Instead, dermatologists discuss chemical vs. physical sunscreens, which is where you may want to start your search in choosing the right sunscreen for your preferences. Natural could mean that it has botanical derived ingredients that help reduce redness after sun exposure but this is not the same as sunscreen.  Physical sunscreens contain the natural ingredients zinc and titanium.

What’s the Difference between Chemical and Physical SPF?

Physical sunscreen can be a great option if you are looking for an effective sunscreen that does not contain certain ingredients commonly found in chemical SPFs. Specifically, the two ingredients that have recently come under fire are oxybenzone and octinoxate. These ingredients have sparked discussions of bans in some areas like the Florida Keys, Miami, and Hawaii. There are some claims that these ingredients, commonly found in many chemical sunscreens, may damage coral reefs and may cause hormonal effects.  This is very controversial and many dermatologists agree that chemical sunscreens are safe and provide better UVA protection- but many people choose to avoid chemical sunscreens. If you are concerned about this, physical sunscreens offer a more environmentally-conscious alternative.

Physical sunscreens work by creating a physical barrier between your skin and the sun, using mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens work by triggering a chemical reaction that turns UV rays into heat, which is then dissipated from your body. 

The main concern with using physical SPF is that many people do not use enough of these products becuase the mineral ingredients have a tendency to leave a white film on the skin and can be harder to rub into the skin than chemical sunscreens. Make sure you choose a product that goes on clear and is easy to apply. If you choose a thick white physical sunscreen, the white color will usually go away in about 5 minutes.  You can also choose a tinted SPF to solve this problem. Darker skin types have a harder time finding a natural SPF that does not look white or violet on their skin. Tinted sunscreens are best for darker skin types. Some physical sunscreens are now available in sprays to make application easier.

What about Homemade Sunscreens?

I do not recommend making your own sunscreen! There is no way to do your own testing to determine the sun protection factor (SPF) of homemade sunscreens, so you will not know how much protection – if any – you are getting. The FDA has a set of very specific tests that must be done to determine the SPF of water-resistant sunscreens. This is best left to companies that can perform this testing and provide accurate information about the sun protection that their products offer. You don’t want to put your skin or your health at risk for the sake of using homemade sunscreen.

How to Choose an Effective SPF

  • Choose the right SPF. Use at least SPF 15 on a daily basis, and SPF 30 or higher when outside for extended periods of time.
  • Look for broad spectrum and both UVA and UVB protection. UVA rays can penetrate glass, so you can still get sun damage when driving in your car or sitting next to a window.
  • Do not rely on SPF in your makeup, powder, or moisturizer as your sole method of protection. You can still use these products, but in conjunction with a separate sunscreen.
  • Choose a product that will work well for your skin type. Many patients with acne-prone skin say that they are concerned about breakouts and clogged pores. EltaMD Physical is a great choice. In fact, Physician Assistant Ilanit Samuels says that many of her acne patients swear by EltaMD, reporting that it is one of the only sunscreens that does not cause breakouts.
  • Buy a new bottle of sunscreen if your existing one is expired or has been sitting in your hot car for months. I recommend replacing sunscreens at least every six months.

Bottom Line

There is a trend toward “natural” ingredients in skincare right now – but natural does not always mean better. You have to protect your skin from the damaging effects of UV rays, which include not only skin cancer but premature aging and other unwanted effects as well. The bottom line is that wearing any SPF is better for your skin’s health than wearing nothing at all. 

©2020 Metabeauty, Inc.

March 1, 2020 Uncategorized