The Best Clean Sunscreens - All You Need to Know


  • Chemical sunscreens get absorbed into the skin.
  • They can interfere with regular bodily functions and are harmful.
  • Mineral or clean sunscreens sit on the topmost skin layer and create a protective shield against harmful rays.
  • There are different ways in which sunscreens can be classified, based on their application, their properties, and their ingredients.

Whether you are heading out to the sea for a holiday or have to face the sun every day on your way to work, the threat of getting sunburns is always there.

Sunburns can be painful and irritating, so it's best to avoid them by using a sunscreen that absorbs or reflects some of the sun’s radiation. However, choosing a sunscreen is not easy. Make the wrong choice, and you could still end up with red, itchy, or inflamed skin.

How to Pick the Right Sunscreen for Your Skin?

Wondering how to zero in on the sunscreen that is perfect for you? Before you make a choice, let’s understand the two broad types of sunscreens and their effects on your skin.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays and then neutralizing them by releasing the heat. People with sensitive skin can find this type of sunscreen irritating as it comes loaded with a lot of artificial ingredients like oxybenzone, octisalate, avobenzone, etc., all of which are known to interfere with our body’s metabolism.

These are potentially harmful to everyone, especially for teenagers whose bodies are rapidly developing and whose biological responses are changing at a speed much higher than that of adults.

Moreover, chemical sunscreens penetrate deep into the layers of the skin in order to protect it from sun damage which can often end up creating other skin problems.

Another important reason to avoid chemical sunscreens is that they break down under sunlight, which means your SPF cover can disappear by lunchtime. To help them last longer, cosmetics companies add ‘penetration enhancers’ to the formula that drives them deeper into the skin and makes them stick. If applied on a regular basis, these can exacerbate acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation, etc.

Clean Sunscreens

Clean sunscreens consist of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which sits on the topmost layer of the skin and protects you from the harmful UVA and UVB rays. These work as a physical barrier or blocker which shields against the sun.

Zinc oxide, which is also used in diaper rash creams, helps calm skin irritation. It also finds its usage as a barrier paste when the skin breaks down. Titanium dioxide is highly non-reactive making it safe for long-term use. From babies to adults, these products are suitable for everyone.

Our pick of the Best Clean Sunscreens

Here is a roundup of types of clean sunscreens one should consider before making a purchase decision:

Water and Sweat Resistant Sunscreen:

Water-resistant sunscreens are designed especially to outlast sweating in the heat and for activities like swimming. However, no sunscreen is completely water-proof. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines water resistant sunscreens as those which provide effective SPF protection for up to 40 minutes in water.

A very high resistance SPF sunscreen formula stays effective for up to 80 minutes after coming in contact with the water. Typically, an SPF 30 sunscreen should filter out 97% of the UV rays from reaching the skin.

Durable Sunscreens:

Sunscreens that are meant to sit on the skin for a longer duration are formulated to give longer protection from the sun. They are great for people who cannot avoid prolonged exposure to the sun or cannot re-apply the sunscreen as many times due to various constraints, for example, outdoor workers.

Broad Spectrum Sunscreen:

Broad-spectrum sunscreens are capable of blocking both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays can cause skin aging and unwanted wrinkles while UVB rays can lead to skin burns, making exposure to both these rays very harmful. So, always try to opt for these products.

It is important to note that while the label may say ‘mineral’, the formula may still be loaded with toxic ingredients. Typically, anything that contains parabens, sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), phthalates, and fragrances, which should be avoided.

Sunscreen Filters:

Every sunscreen has filters that either absorb or reflect the UV rays, based on which there are two types of basic filters:

Organic: Organic filters absorb the UV rays and convert them into a small amount of heat. Examples of such ingredients are cinnamates, salicylates, and benzophenones.

Inorganic: Inorganic filters will reflect and scatter UV radiation. Examples of ingredients are zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These types of filters are generally less irritating to the skin.

Creamy & Clear Formulations:

Most of the sunscreens look creamy as they are emulsions. Through the use of emulsifiers, a mixture of oil-based and water-based ingredients is brought together and stabilized. UV filters are generally oil-soluble or water-soluble and an emulsion will most probably contain a mixture of these filters. The end product may be transparent in color if the mixture is not stabilized using emulsifiers, as the ingredients are only oil-based or water-based.

Common Sunscreen Formulations:

There are different topical formulations amongst sunscreens for different application purposes:

Creams: Opt for cream-based sunscreen if you have dry skin, especially for your face.

Lotions: Lotions should be preferably used for large areas and they are generally thinner and less greasy than creams.

Gel: Gel-based sunscreens are best for hairy areas, like the chest or scalp.

Stick: Best used when applying sunscreen around the eyes.

Spray: Spray sunscreen is easy to apply on kids and a generous amount can be coated and sprayed quickly. It’s important to take caution to not spray near the mouth to avoid inhalation of the product.

Moisturizers and Foundations with SPF:

Anti-aging cosmetic products abound the markets. Some moisturizers and foundations also contain added protection from UV rays to protect the skin from harmful sun rays that speed up aging. However, it is important to note that these products are not typically meant to offer protection from the sun and should be applied in conjunction with an appropriate sunscreen.

We hope the above information helps you pick the sunscreen that best suits your skin type and keeps the harmful sun exposure at bay!

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