The many things we have learned about how to choose a safe sunscreen that protects us from the sun’s rays, yet without the ingredients to harm us. SPF, sun filters, nano particles, blue light, propellant chemicals.. do you know what all of these terms mean and how they factor into the choice of sunscreen?
For years we knew that some sunscreens are not as healthy as others: there are questionable ingredients in sunscreens, and many terms associated with sunscreens are confusing. But we didn’t have the time to research them, because life has been crazy: we were trying to cure my fibromyalgia, then fighting insomnia and anxiety, we spent a significant amount of time optimizing my foods and fermenting, then another year detoxing myself from the inside. At that point, my health was finally in a good place, and we felt we had the time to start detoxing my products at home. In addition, we also dig into learning about ingredient labels and the science behind them.
The nearly limitless number of sunscreen choices might be confusing if you guess wrong, you’ll actually get burned. Follow these golden rules for finding the perfect and most protective sunscreen options.
Most dermatologists advise using the sun-protection factor (SPF) for at least 30. “Generally, the amount of protection going from SPF 30-50 is approximately 3 % more effective from 95 % to 97.5 %,” says surgical oncologist James Lewis, MD, director of the Melanoma & Soft Tissue Tumor Service at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Most people are not perfect when using sunscreen, so it is easier to start with a larger number for extra protection. “Any SPF lower than 30 really does not afford you the level of sun protection that you’ll require,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, and President & Co-Founder of Modern Dermatology. Be sure to avoid these 7 mistakes with sunscreen.
The sunlight emits several kinds of ultraviolet light, so you must protect against all of them. “The two most significant things to look for on the label are ‘broad spectrum,’ which indicates the sunscreen protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), and also the SPF rating, which indicates how well it protects against UVB,” says Sejal Shah, MD, a dermatologist & Real Self contributor. Most sunblock products include several sunscreens, so look for the words “broad spectrum” to make sure you have got a product worth buying. “The FDA has approved 17 different sunblock filters, all with different wavelengths that they protect,” says Fayne Frey, MD, a dermatologist in West Nyack, New York. “For this reason, the vast majority of sunscreens are formulated with more than one sunscreen filter to cover a broader range of wavelengths.
Chemical vs. Physical
Sunscreens products are made with either chemical sun blockers or physical ones. Each works differently to do the same thing. “A chemical block is usually a sunblock with several different chemicals inside it,” says Stanley Kovak, MD, a cosmetic physician, and owner of Kovak Cosmetic Center outside Chicago. “They work by absorbing Ultraviolet rays into the tissue, and when UV rays pass through the skin, they change the rays into a longer wavelength which is considerably less harmful so that it is not very damaging.” Physical or mineral sunscreens stay on the skin to reflect light away from the skin, he adds. Only two types of physical sunscreens have been FDA-approved zinc-oxide and titanium dioxide and both might be good choices for your skin type. “If you’re more sensitive skin, a mineral sunscreen might be a better option because it is less likely to cause skin reactions compared with chemical sunscreens,” Dr. Shah says. But there is a downside: Physical sunscreens tend to leave the skin with a white sheen and are often pricier than chemical versions, Dr. Frey says. Tinted mineral sunscreen is a great option to avoid the ghost face look. Read about the new kind of chemical sunscreen that won’t seep into your skin.
“Sunscreens are available in a variety of formulations lotions, creams, and gels, so choose one that works for you,” Dr. Shah says. “For example, gels are perfect for oily skin or hairy areas, while creams are more effective for dry skin.” Some sunscreens feel sticky or create a film on the skin and will not be very pleasant for everyday wearing, so select one that you will actually follow through with wearing regularly even when you are not spending hours outside. “Daily SPF is important,” says Adrienne Haughton, MD, director of clinical and cosmetic dermatology at Stony Brook Medicine at Commack, New York. “UVA comes through window glass and it is present on a cloudy day. That’s why most of the people in the United States develop skin cancers on the left side of their face & left arm depending on exposure through the driver side window.” Start with these best sunscreens for each type of skin.
The sunlight can affect your skin even if you have not been out for a long time, so you must apply before you leave the house or car. “Apply before you go outside into the sun and reapply frequently, every one to two hours, specifically when you are going into water or sweating,” says Dr. Lewis. Parents, this rule especially applies to little ones: If you wait, they might end up getting more than half an hour of unprotected sun time. Burning and sun damage can quickly happen in those brief minutes. Choose a sunscreen that is perfect for every activity.
Even if you do not plan to splash around in the water, reach for a water-resistant sunscreen if you get sweaty, the water resistance sunscreen will keep you covered longer. “Water-resistant sunscreen is perfect,” says Dr. Frye. “Sunscreens can be tested for either 40 or 80 min of water-resistant protection, but reapplication of the sunscreen is essential every 2 hours or after swimming, heavy perspiring, or just being wiped off with a towel.” Whether it is a water-resistant or physical sunscreen, you should not get lazy about reapplying, says dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, clinical instructor at the University of Southern California. “Mineral sunscreen with zinc and titanium wipe off easily when you sweat or with friction from towels or clothing so that they must be reapplied,” she says. Check out these other sunscreen mistakes that will leave you burned.
The sun depletes your skin’s antioxidants, so if you can replace those healthy molecules while you protect against the sun’s rays, much better. “One of my personal favorite sunscreens, ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica, protects with an SPF of 50 from the physical sunscreen zinc-oxide. It also contains the potent antioxidant Vite, which will help protect against environmental damage in addition to photolyase enzymes, which have been scientifically proven to repair UV-induced DNA damage,” Dr. Robinson says. “In essence, it’s repairing and protecting simultaneously. “It is a win-win.” Sunscreens with antioxidants are more stable, too, says Patricia Wexler, MD, a dermatological surgeon, and owner of Wexler Dermatology in New York”. “But keep an eye out for one you need to avoid: “Some SPFs have antioxidants added, like it a, which could actually increase the risk of sun sensitivity & even skin cancer.”
Not skin tone
If you believe your darker skin type protects you from the sunlight, you are right, but it doesn’t mean that you should not lather on the sunscreen. “People with darker skin types have more melanin that provides a natural protection from the sun,” Dr. Haughton says. “African American skin, on average, has an SPF of 13.4, compared to 3.4 in Caucasian skin.” But that’ is not an excuse to skimp on SPF. “Total SPF isn’t cumulative. If someone with fair skin & dark skin both placed on a product with an SPF of 30, their highest protection from UVB remains 30,” Dr. Haughton says. “This also goes for layering products that contain sunscreen; if your moisturizer has an SPF of 15 and your foundation has an SPF of 15, your overall SPF remains 15.” It doesn’t matter what is your skin tone, you are at risk of skin damage and quicker aging in the sun, says Frank Wang, MD, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at Michigan Medicine. “Those with darker skin may have less risk for sunburns, but Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans still burn,” he says.
Lotions and creams
Some sunblock formulas work better than others for maximum sun protection. “When you rub in cream sunscreens, it is easy to tell if you’ve protected your whole body,” says Hari Nadiminti, MD, Mohs micrographic surgeon at Summit Medical Group. “Spray sunscreens are convenient, but you often end up missing spots. You may also run the risk of inhaling chemicals. If you do use spray sunscreens, don’t use in face or mouth.”
Sticks for lips
“Lips, nose, and ears are very important to protect and frequently forget,” says Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, medical director of Mudgil Dermatology. You can use the same sunscreen lotion for your face, nose, and ears. Just make sure you re-apply more often to your face if you are wiping or rubbing with a towel or cloth. Find a sunscreen stick designed for the lips to protect your kisser, says Dr. Mudgil. Do not miss these other critical spots most people forget when applying sunscreen.