People have been telling us to put our sunscreen on for decades. Incessantly. Annoyingly. And, inarguably, 100% correctly. However, what we didn't hear whispered in our ears over the years was that the same sun-blocking formulas we spread all the way up to our earlobes (for the sake of protection) were having quite the opposite impact on the environment. Specifically, the coral reefs. And according to The New York Times, Hawaii officially has something to say about it.
Just a little over a week ago on May 1, Hawaii made history by becoming the very first state to pass legislation that bans the sale of sunscreen containing two specific ingredients—oxybenzone and octinoxate. Both of which, according to recent studies, have been correlated to nasty environmental consequences like coral bleaching. (Basically, the chemicals—14,000 tons of sunscreen to be exact—wash off of us and latch onto surrounding organisms instead.) Currently, the sunscreen bill is just awaiting the signature of the governor and the new rules are set to take effect January 1, 2021.
So far, so good, right? Well, that's where some hesitation comes in. Of course, the overall consensus seems to be a positive one. After all, how could anyone have qualms about saving coral reefs? The issue, however, therein lies the effect the news will have on consumers and the effect the news will have on the kind of sunscreen consumers will reach for. Which, if oxybenzone and octinoxate are off the table, will undoubtedly be "physical" sunscreens versus "chemical." (The difference being physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and chemical sunscreens contain compounds like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone.)
However, while physical sunscreens are generally applauded for their natural mineral makeup, they may not be as effective as chemical sunscreens at blocking out UVA damage. (To confirm, physical sunscreens will not be included in the new ban.)
"My concern," Annie Chiu, MD, explained to Fashionista.com, "is that there will be confusion for consumers, as [octinoxate and oxybenzone are] not harmful from a personal health standpoint. There are very few ingredients in sunscreen that give broad UVA and UVB coverage. These ingredients expand coverage in the UVA spectrum, and it could be difficult for consumers to get a true broad-spectrum sunscreen since SPF is what the consumer focuses on, but that only measures UVB protection."
On the other hand, and in addition to being significantly more reef-friendly, physical sunscreens do have some other benefits that chemical lack. In fact, according to celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau's website, physical sunscreens are often better for sensitive and acne-prone skin types, have an extended shelf life, and can last longer when exposed to direct UV light. So, as with most health, wellness, and beauty dilemmas—the debate triggers a certain degree of whiplash.
That being said, Byrdie HQ has been ready to jump on the physical sunscreen train for a while now. Thus, we rounded up seven safe sunscreens we think you should have on your radar. And probably your back. Keep scrolling for our top picks!
Say hello to VIVE SANA—the newest and perhaps cleanest sunscreen on the block. Not only is it organic and mineral-based, but it also features a dreamy ingredient list featuring skin-brightening fare like argan, raspberry seed, green tea, licorice root, and non-nano zinc. Which, according to the brand's website, is a "safe, effective, natural ingredient that provides excellent broad-spectrum protection" and may be healthier than its chemical counterparts.
One of the most common complaints people have regarding physical sunscreens is how inferior they are when it comes to absorption (i.e., depositing that telltale opaque white cast sitting on top of the skin). However, not so with this fan-favorite from Nia 24 that boasts superior absorption. Plus, it's especially great for oily, acne-prone skin types.
Not only is this peppily hued tube organic, but it's also water-resistant, chemical-free, and suited for each and every skin type. We're also not mad at skin-saving additions like coconut oil, jojoba, aloe vera, essential oils, antioxidants, and vitamins C and E.
With antioxidants, green tea, zinc oxide, and vitamin C, this physical SPF is one of the safest sunscreens you can slather on your face each morning. It absorbs quickly, features SPF 30, and never leaves behind a trail of grease, which makes it a great option for layering under your makeup.
Ideal for all skin types, this 100% mineral sunscreen relies upon Titanium Dioxide to help reflect UV light. We also just think it looks really good on our bathroom counter. But that's just our vanity speaking.
In addition to zinc oxide (aka the hero ingredient that will protect your skin from those powerful rays), this safe sunscreen is fortified with exotic ingredients like thermus ferment (otherwise known as deep sea enzymes) for a brighter and healthier skin situation.
Perfectly tinted, this witch hazel and vitamin C sunscreen not only serves as your daily dose of sun protection, but it also doubles as a lightweight alternative to foundation and works flawlessly as a primer.
Next up, read up on the debate between organic and nonorganic sunscreens. (Brace yourself: The waters are a little murky.)