The Regimen

How to Choose the Safest Sunscreen

Shot of a happy young woman leaning out of a car window on a road trip

The sun is out in full force. You've been responsibly enjoying the outdoors, applying, and reapplying. And suddenly, the word benzene floats into the headlines like a cloud darkening your summer beach day. Don't panic. And don't give up on sunscreen. Sunscreen is still the single most effective (and essential) way to protect your skin from photodamage and the risk of skin cancer. How can you feel confident that your sunscreen is safe? Let's take a deep dive into the topic of sunscreen to set your mind (and skin) at ease.


What is benzene?

Benzene is a carcinogenic chemical most commonly used as an industrial solvent and gasoline additive. It's also a natural part of crude oil and gasoline.


Is benzene a sunscreen ingredient?

No. However, in recent weeks, many sunscreen manufacturers have announced recalls due to the presence of benzene in their products. How did it get there? It's been reported that it was a result of contamination in the manufacturing process. We don't really know. We do know it would never happen in our formulas because of our meticulous production process. We manufacture in small batches using only the highest quality pharmaceutical-grade ingredients. Every bottle is hand-filled, then checked and rechecked for quality and safety, so you can feel secure that our formulas are free from contamination or impurities.


What types of chemicals are used in sunscreens?

The chemicals typically used in sunscreens are filtering compounds that neutralize UV rays to protect the skin against the harmful effects of the sun. In the U.S., the most common are ensulizole, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, avobenzone (not to be confused with benzene). These chemicals are absorbed into the skin, which has raised safety concerns. Some have been linked to hormone disruption when used at high levels over time. The FDA has recently asked for more data on the extent and effect of ingredient absorption into the skin.


What is the difference between chemical and physical (or mineral) sunscreens?

Chemical sunscreens contain organic chemical compounds that absorb and scatter UV rays. Chemical sunscreens require many ingredients to protect against UVA rays (the ones that generate the highly reactive free radicals) and UVB rays (the ones that burn), which can make the formulas irritating to sensitive skin and increase exposure to chemicals.  

Physical sunscreens use minerals—zinc oxide or titanium dioxide—to create a barrier against UV rays. Rather than being absorbed, these sit on the skin's surface, where they deflect the sun's rays. Mineral sunscreens effectively block both UVA and UVB, giving you protection from burns and harmful free radicals.


What is the safest type of sunscreen?

The only two ingredients that the FDA recognizes as GRASE (generally regarded as safe and effective) without reservation are zInc oxide and titanium dioxide, the foundation of mineral sunscreens. If you're worried about chemical absorption, mineral sunscreens are the safest option because they work on the top of the skin as a block rather than being absorbed into the skin. Mineral ingredients are also the most effective at blocking both UVA and UVB rays.

No matter what you use, it's essential to reapply every two hours or after swimming or activity. And remember, sunscreen alone isn’t enough. Limit sun exposure, get into the shade at regular intervals, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses.

What about SPF numbers? Is higher better?

SPF refers to UVB protection, the amount of time you can remain in the sun before getting burned. It doesn't tell you anything about protection from UVA radiation.

The higher SPF numbers can be misleading because protection doesn't increase proportionally to the size of the number. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays. Bumping up to 50 SPF increases protection by only 1%.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 for any extended outdoor activity. Regulators in Europe and Australia have capped SPF levels at 50 because anything greater provides only marginal increased protection and may increase exposure to chemicals. Additionally, the higher number tends to give people a false sense of security, leading to increased sun exposure.


What does Vivant recommend?

Earlier this year, we launched our brand new Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30. Our goal was to create a formula that was safe for the skin and the environment. We're thrilled with what we achieved—lightweight, non-greasy, broad-spectrum UVA/UVB mineral protection that's free of pore-clogging or hormone-disrupting ingredients. Because of the nature of minerals, most physical sunscreens are drying and often leave a chalky residue. We worked hard to create a formulation that does neither. Vivant's Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 is non-ghosting, hydrating, and still retains a non-sticky, matte finish.

Reef-safe, pregnancy-safe, paraben-free, non-toxic, non-comedogenic, non-ghosting, and non-drying—we think our Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 is the perfect sunscreen.  

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