We have an idea of what “organic” means when it comes to food, but when the term is used to describe a sunscreen, it becomes a little bit foggier. “This is a tricky question to answer since organic has so many meanings,” says Heather D. Rogers, MD, founder and CEO of Doctor Rogers Restore and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Seattle. “Probably the most commonly held definition involves the use of food of animal or plant origin produced without chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.”
Rogers explains that the interpretation has evolved from just describing food to describing products and their ingredients. In this case, organic is a regulated labeling term that means the ingredients were produced through approved methods and verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. Both entire products or individual ingredients in a product can be labeled as organic.
“Another definition of organic is ‘of relation to carbon compounds,’ which, when applied to sunscreen, means carbon-based chemicals are used to protect the skin from UV radiation,” Rogers adds. “Here, the chemical sunscreen ingredients are technically considered organic, as in ‘organic chemistry,’ and are a chemical with a carbon backbone (oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octinoxate) instead of mineral or physical or inorganic sunscreens made from zinc and titanium, which do not contain carbon.”