Chemical-Free Sunscreens: What Are They And How Do They Work?

The beauty world is fast becoming obsessed with chemical-free products and of course sunscreens are no exception. Chemical-free sunscreens are said to be gentler, safer and more effective than traditional sunscreens so it’s no surprise they’re the preferred choice of many people. But what are chemical-free sunscreens? How can we identify them, how do they work and are they really a better choice? Read on to find out.

Chemical-free sunscreen definition

If you think that chemical-free sunscreen means that sunscreen doesn’t contain any chemicals, you’re wrong. In fact, it is impossible to find any cosmetic products that don’t contain chemicals. Yep, natural ones contain chemicals too. That’s because everything that is made up of matter is a chemical. Water is a chemical, plants and human beings are made of chemicals. In a nutshell, everything is a chemical.

However, the word chemical has, for simplicity reasons, been erroneously and continuously used to define everything that’s not natural so it has started to assume this meaning too. I am ashamed to say I’m guilty of doing this too. But back to sunscreen, now that you know what a chemical really is, what does chemical-free means in regard to this very important cosmetic product?

Well, it simply means that the product doesn’t contain any sunscreen agents that contain carbon. How can you know what ingredients are made with carbon, I hear you ask? Well, that’s very easy. The only sunscreen agents that are carbon-free are Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, so if you wanna use “chemical-free” sunscreen look for products that contain these ingredients only.

How do chemical-free sunscreens work?

Ever wondered why sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure? That’s because most sunscreen agents (the carbon ones to be exact) need to be absorbed by the skin to be activated and become effective. Twenty minutes is how long it takes for this chemical reaction to occur.

Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, on the other hand, don’t have to be absorbed. They work as shields, forming a protective layer on your skin. When the sun rays hit this barrier, they are simply bounced off so they won’t damage your skin. These two ingredients work straight away, no need to wait this time. Not only that, but they also protect against the entire UV spectrum, are gentler and less irritating, a perfect choice for those with sensitive skin.

Are chemical-free sunscreens better?

I personally think that “chemical-free” sunscreens are better for several reasons: they protect against both UVA and UVB rays instead than just from one type like most other sunscreen agents do and they don’t irritate skin. Another bonus is that Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are effective immediately after application. That doesn’t mean of course that all the other sunscreens are bad. As long as they offer broad spectrum protection and don’t cause any negative reactions to your skin, they are effective and valid products. But I do think that “chemical-free” sunscreens are just that little bit better.

Do you use chemical-free sunscreens?

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    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Brittany, thanks. I’m glad you like Desert Essence sunscreens. I haven’t had a chance to try them but I do love chemical-free sunscreens.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Dee, it depends. If I’m out all day in spring and summer (which rarely happens) I reapply sunscreens. But usually I spend most of my time indoors so I don’t. I don’t think that reapplying thorughout the day is necessary in that case.

  1. says

    Things that have the “chemical-free” label irk me to no end. As a former chemistry student, I want people to know that the world is made of chemicals. But I do agree with you, physical sunblocks are a lot gentler. They are the only ones I can use.
    Dao´s last blog post ..A Day at the BeachMy Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Dao, it’s annoying, isn’t it? I hate when people imply that chemical-free stuff is better or safer. Everything is made of chemicals so is everything bad? Of course not.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Makeup Morsels, eheh, thanks. And yes, there are lots of sunscreens that contain both physical and chemical sunscreen agents. :)

  2. Ozana says

    Sure, I like these ones better, for all the reasons you just gave, but all the ones I’ve tried leave this white mask on my face. Even if I rub it well into the skin, it still looks white and kind of greasy. Maybe you guys have good brands to share here because as much as I think chemical-free sunscreen is better I simply can’t use it, and even less under make up. And I mean really good ones, not just the ones where their marketing says that they leave no white cast and then you try them and they do….

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Ozana, unfortunately the white cast is the only “problem” physical blockers have. Both Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are white powders so they will give your skin a white cast, although it also depends on the formula. Some products leave a whiter cast than others. I have very pale skin so this is not a problem for me but if it is for you then you could try sunscreens with nanoparticles of Titanium Dioxide as those should leave a white cast on skin. Hope this helps.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Jeni, that’s too bad that Avobenzone makes your skin burn. Ouch. But I think that sunscreens with Zinc Oxide are best anyway. :)

  3. Janessa says

    I love sunblocks for their immediacy. Do sunscreens cause free radicals and cancel out antioxidants applied to the skin? Thanks so much, Giorgia!

    Please do let me know which products you really want to try when you do have one.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Janessa, mmm I guess that would depend on the formula. Alcohol for instance can cause free radicals so any antioxidants you apply on your skin will have to deal with those first. And so, unless your product contains a generous dose of antioxidants, there may not be enough left to deal properly with the free radicals you already had. But most sunscreens are ok and won’t cause any side effects.

      And I will, thank you! :)


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