Sunscreen, we know we need it, but do we really know what to use and why? When I began researching this topic I expected to gain a refresher about sun safety, discover a few advancements and present you with a brief summary. Boy was I wrong! The refresher part was easy, but the discovering new advancements was like opening Pandora's box. There are some very opinionated debates about what sunscreen you should wear, how you should wear it, and why you should wear it. Sun School 101
There are two types of UV Radiation being giving off by the sun, UVA and UVB and you need protection from both.
- UVA - These are the rays that cause AGING. This is the dominant tanning ray whether tanning out doors or in a tanning bed and it is strong enough to permeate through glass and clouds. This ray penetrates the skin deeper than a UVB ray, thus causing cumulative damage to the skin over time. 1
- UVB - These are the rays that cause your skin to BURN as they tend to effect only the superficial epidermal layer (or the top most layer). The intensity of these rays vary by time of day, altitude and season. 1
According to the FDA's new labeling rules for 2012, if a bottle of sunscreen just has an SPF + a number it will not block out a significant amount of UVA rays. To be sure your sunscreen is going to block both UVA and UVB rays, the bottle has to read "Broad Spectrum" and have an SPF of 15 or higher. Any sunscreen not labeled Broad Spectrum or with an SPF between 2-14 the product will be listed a warning “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.” 2
Types of Sunscreen
There are two types of sunscreen, physical blockers and chemical blockers. Physical sunscreen, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, sits on the skin's surface and physically blocks both the UVA and UVB rays. A chemical sunscreen is absorbed by the skin so the sun becomes deactivated once the rays come in contact with the chemicals in the sunscreen. 3 There is much debate as to the safety of chemical sunscreens and every article and opinion you read will tell you something new. If you have used any major brand of sunscreen at any point in your life, you've used a chemical sunscreen. Two chemicals that seem to be least controversial are Avobenzone and Mexoryl (see here and here). 1 Oxybenzone and Retinyl Palmitate seems to be two of the more controversial (see here and here).
- Strip down, yep I said it, strip down to your birthday suit and apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you go outside. Applying sunscreen in the buff will ensure your swimsuit won't get in the way and you can cover all the hard to reach areas. There is nothing worse than thinking your skin is covered, your swimsuit unknowingly shifts one way just a little too far and you end up with a lobster red sunburn in one small line.
- Apply 1 ounce (equal to 2 tablespoons or a shot glass full) of sunscreen to your entire body. 1
- Reapply every 2 hours. "Waterproof" sunscreens have been approved to last for 80 minutes, but may need to be reapplied sooner when swimming or with heavy sweating. "Water Resistant" sunscreens have been approved to last for 40 minutes. 4
- Don't forget to apply sunscreen to your ears (front and back), back of the neck, back of the hands and any exposed areas in your hair (like where your hair is parted - you do not want that to burn and then turn into a peeling, flaky scalp). 4
- Always choose a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15. 1
- Sunscreen can loose it's potency over time so be cautious using sunscreen that has changed color, smell or consistency. 4
- If you are concerned about potentially toxic chemicals avoid any sunscreens containing oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. 5 For a list of sunscreens without these chemicals, see here.
- Remember this phrase from the American Cancer Society: "Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap". Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat, and Wrap on sunglasses. 4
The two companies that I have trusted for the last few years is EltaMD and La Roche-Posay. Unbeknownst to me they were the top two selling sunscreens of 2012 (see the list here - I cannot guarantee that the products on this list are free of some of the aforementioned chemicals.).
The sunscreen that I use almost every day...yes I don't wear it every day...is EltaMD UV Facial Broad Spectrum SPF 30+. If I know I'm going to be stuck in side all day without being in the sun at all, I don't wear sunscreen. This product is wonderful under make up. It soaks right into the skin and leaves no greasy residue. It's a constant in both my personal and professional make up kit. This product is only found in a dermatologist office, but this link will tell you where it's sold in an office near you.
La Roche-Posey is a company that I recommend for multiple products (I've used one of their face washes for years and I love it!). Their sunscreens are some of the best on the market because of the Mexoryl SX technology. The Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizer with Sunscreen is one of their best sellers. This product is usually found in the dermatologists office, but in the last few years CVS has started carrying this line. If it's not in a store near you then the products can be found on the CVS website.
So as I told you in the beginning, what I thought was going to be a simple post was anything but. Hopefully this gave you a refresher about information you already knew and introduced you to some new information about what's currently on the market. I'd love to know what your favorite sunscreens are.