The sun gives us light, heat, and energy. It also causes nasty red burns on your skin that might cause skin cancer later in life. To stop them from developing, most people use one form or another of sunscreen. But with so many options on the shelf at the local convenience store, how do you pick the right one?
Here’s the breakdown on what you need to look for to find the right susncreen for your skin:
TWO WAYS TO COMBAT UV RAYS
Sunscreen is created to block or deflect ultraviolet (UV) radiation that the sun produces. UV rays react with skin cells in negative ways. Sunscreens commonly include ingredients that act as “penetration enhancers” and help the product adhere to skin. As a result, many sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body and can be measured in blood, breast milk and urine samples.
Scientists have developed two ways to stop these UV rays from reaching your skin:
Organic Sunscreen: Called organic because it contains carbon (not because it is grown without pesticides) and is a chemical filter. This type of sunscreen acts as a sponge of protection around your skin, absorbing harmful UV rays so that your skin doesn’t get burned. The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of two to six of these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These chemical filters have shown indications of hormone disruption or skin allergy.
Inorganic Sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen): Contains titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both. These minerals allow the sunscreen to reflect the rays of the sun before they reach your skin, acting like a shield by deflecting the rays.
Which is better?
Either type of sunscreen helps protect the skin from UV rays, but inorganic sunscreen just might be the better option because when organic sunscreen absorbs UV rays, it can become unstable. Certain ingredients found in organic sunscreen, like oxybenzonee and octocrylene, disperse the extra energy from UV light in ways that can lead to the creation of harmful free radicals (the very thing you are trying to prevent when putting sunscreen on). Always avoid sunscreen with retinyl palmitate, this particular type of vitamin A may increase risk of skin cancer when used on sun-exposed skin.
I recommend broad spectrum sunscreens. Broad spectrum means the product protects against both UVB rays that cause sunburns and also UVA radiation that causes premature skin damage and aging. Evidence has shown the best sunscreens are the ones that block UVB and UVA.
SPF: THE KEY IS TO REAPPLY
A conversation about sunscreen can’t be complete without discussing SPF. SPF stands for the sun protection factor. According to dermatologist Dr. Katy Burris, “SPF is an indication of how long it will take you to develop a sunburn.” Burris explains that time-wise you can generally multiply the SPF number by 10 minutes. This is how long you can go before reapplying.
For most people, SPF 15 is a good amount if you just remember to reapply after 150 minutes. However, some people with certain skin issues might want a higher SPF. SPF is sometimes arbitrary, too. A number of SPF 50 sunscreens protect against 98 percent of UV rays while SPF 30 protects against 97 percent. The key to SPF is to reapply often before your skin begins to redden. It is not necessary to purchase sunscreens with SPF greater than SPF 50. The protective factors plateau from there. A product with SPF 100+ blocks about 99.1 percent.
SUNSCREEN CAN BE WATER-RESISTANT—BUT NEVER WATERPROOF
It’s good to buy a water-resistant sunscreen. This will provide some protection when you’re in the water, but the best protection is to reapply sunscreen frequently. WebMD recommends that every water-resistant sunscreens should be reapplied after 40 minutes of swimming.
Use a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 and a maximum of SPF 50
Make sure labels list UVA and UVB (or broad spectrum protection)
Use Mineral Sunscreens and avoid products containing oxybenzone and retinyl palminate if you’re concerned about potentially toxic chemicals
Choose lotions versus spray sunscreens for a more evenly distributed protection
Remember to apply at least 2 ounces of lotion (about a shot glass full) and reapply often. The sun breaks down the ingredients in sunscreen that protect your skin. Experts recommend reapplying every two hours, or after swimming or heavy sweating.