Sunscreen has always been a necessity in my skincare routine—never a luxury. After washing my face with a creamy cleanser and patting on a floral essence and silky serum, rubbing in some sticky SPF formula with a high chance of breaking me out isn’t my ideal finishing touch, but I figured it was just the tradeoff for preventing sun damage and skin aging. But simply resigning myself to the idea that all sunscreens are created equally greasy and pore-clogging meant that I never really took the time to find out what it was in the ones I was using that was irritating my sensitive skin and ruining the look of my makeup.
Lately, though, I’ve been all about taking steps to clean up my diet, home, and beauty routine. What’s the point of being conscientious of where the food I’m putting in my body comes from, but not the ingredients I’m allowing my skin to absorb? That, BTW, is exactly what the chemical sunscreens I’d always turned to do: Some formulas sink into skin where it then absorbs UV rays, converts them into heat, and releases them from the body. Learning the difference between chemical and physical SPFs was the first lesson in my sunscreen education.
Rather than absorbing, the latter category sits on top of skin and uses minerals—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which the FDA has deemed to be safe and effective—to block and reflect the sun’s rays. As for the ingredients in chemical sunscreens, the FDA has determined there isn’t enough research to definitively declare them safe and has raised concerns over oxybenzone in particular—both for its potential risk to the human body and the environment. (Hawaii recently outlawed oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens due to their potential to kill coral reefs.)
Next time you’re shopping for a new SPF, look at the label: If it lists oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate, you’ve got a chemical formula.
I’d picked chemical sunscreens in the past after being sold on the texture. They often come in easy-to-use aerosol mists and lightweight serums and gels, and they instantly and invisibly sink into skin. But I paid for that seamless approach down the line, when my reactive skin inevitably broke out. Now I know that dermatologists recommend physical sunscreens for sensitive types (all baby sunscreens are mineral, if that tells you anything), so I’ve switched to using REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Face Sunscreen.
REN Clean Skincare makes products that are clean to skin and clean to the planet. The formulas are free of silicones, chemical screens, sulphates, phthalates, dyes, and more, plus the packaging is refillable, recyclable, and compostable. The company ticks all the boxes on the eco-conscious, healthy lifestyle checklist, but just as crucially, the Clean Screen formula is gentle and luxurious on my skin. The key UVA, UVB, and blue light-blocking ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, which means the particles won’t enter the bloodstream or react with my other products and cause irritation.
Not only does it keep my skin safe from the sun, but it also protects against pollution and free radical damage thanks to yellow passion fruit seed extract, a powerful antioxidant. Rice starch, not silicone, leaves my skin with a matte finish and a blurred effect that minimizes the look of pores and acts like a primer to improve the finish of my makeup. With this sunscreen as a base, my foundation glides smoothly over and stays shine-free all day.
Now that sunscreen application is no longer a necessary evil in my skincare routine, getting ready in the morning finally feels like indulging in a full self-care ritual, complete with luxurious textures and clean, safe ingredients.