Smart sun protection: understanding the best sunscreen options
So many options, what should I choose?
Here in the Eastern hemisphere our days are getting longer and the sun is shining brighter, which means spring is in full swing! Before we know it, summer will be upon us. This typically brings questions about sun exposure and sun protection. Many people want to know about sunscreen: what should I look for in a good sunscreen and are they safe? What are some of the best sunscreen out there? So, this week we will answer all these questions!
As a Caribbean girl who grew up right next to the ocean, the beach is home to me. I love being out there. So, I totally get it. However, it is important to understand that the best defense against the sun is to limit exposure, particularly at peak hours (10am-2pm). Also, don’t rely just on your sunscreen; wear protective clothing, sunglasses and hats to optimize protection.
Is sunscreen safe?
Can it cause cancer?
The number one myth that I hear out there is that sunscreen causes cancer. WHAT?!?! How did this happen?? The first time I heard this I thought it was a joke. There is absolutely no scientific data that shows that sunscreen causes cancer. Let me say that one more time SUNSCREEN DOESN’T CAUSE CANCER. Do you know what does cause cancer? The sun. There are multiple studies showing that excessive sun exposure leads to an increased risk of various types of skin cancer. Not to mention it speeds up facial aging (photoaging) and causes uneven pigmentation and dark spots.
Of course, we know that melanin, the pigment in the skin that gives it color, is protective against the sun. So the darker you are, the lower your risk of sun related skin cancer. For example, epidermal melanin in black skin filters twice as much UVB radiation as does that in Caucasians. Now, that does not mean that if your skin is darker you can run around outside all day without protection from the sun! You can still get burned and you are still at risk of sun related skin cancer, just less so than the fair skinned.
Are there other health concerns with sunscreen?
There are two main types of sunscreen filters out there: chemical and mineral. I will break it down so you can see which belong to each category:
The vast majority of sunscreens out there are mostly chemical and a few are a combination of chemical with mineral. Although the data is not super strong, several of these chemical filters may mimic reproductive and thyroid hormones. In addition, many are strong allergens and not tolerated by those with sensitive skins. Studies have shown that chemical filters are absorbed by the skin and excreted in breast milk and urine samples. Much of the data collected discusses Oxybenzone in particular. Besides having a good amount of animal data on this chemical, there are also several human studies. One study showed significantly lower testosterone concentration in male adolescents with higher levels of oxybenzone. In addition, another study looking at exposure of oxybenzone showed than men with greater exposure to this chemical had poorer sperm motility and it took longer for their partner to conceive. It is also thought that this chemical has weak estrogenic activity and a study looking at 625 women in Utah noted an increased risk of endometriosis in females exposed to oxybenzone and related chemicals.
As for mineral sunscreens, most evidence shows that there little, if any, skin absorption of zinc or titanium. Since it has poor, if any, absorption into our body, it really has no effects in our system.
What makes a good sunscreen?
Sun protection factor (SPF)
Let’s talk about this for a minute, because there is a common misconception that if SPF 30 is good, SPF 100 must be much better. Right? Well, no. After about an SPF of 50, the extra protection the higher SPF gives you is negligible. Check this out: an SPF 50 blocks 98% of the UVB rays and SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays. How much difference will that 1% make? In reality, none. In addition, the higher the SPF, the more required sun-filtering chemicals and the higher your exposure to them. Most experts recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF 30 to 50 as sufficient sun protection.
Ultraviolet Rays A and B (UV A and B)
Most sunscreens protect against two main types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. UVB is associated with non-melanoma skin cancers and it is the main cause of sunburn. UVA exposure causes free radical formation in the skin, suppresses the immune system and seems to be more important in melanoma development. A good sunscreen will have a good balance of protection between the two. SPF tends to dictate the amount of UVB protection present, so if the SPF is too high, the amount of UVA protection is likely to be lower.
What are my favorite brands?
The perfect sunscreen will be low chemical, so it is safe and non-toxic, with an SPF between 30 and 50 and a good balance of UVA/UVB protection. I tend to go with mineral sunscreen and for the most part you need 10% or more of zinc or titanium to have the best effect. From the chemical filters, Avobenzone has the lowest skin penetration, so if you want to go with a chemical sunscreen this is your safer bet. In addition, try to steer clear from spray sunscreens because it puts you at risk for inhalation of the chemicals. You don’t want any of those in your lungs.
I will mention that most mineral sunscreens tend to be thick and will leave you looking a bit ghostly 👻 which is why the mineral facial sunscreens I list here are tinted. If there is a brand you love, I recommend you go to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) homepage or download their app and look up the product you use. It will give you a health scoring, so that you have an idea of the potential hazards of that product.
These are great for both adults and kids:
- Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30: It has a great rating by EWG, it is clear, with good UVA/UVB balance and it provides great protection with 19% Zinc Oxide.
- Honest Company mineral sunscreen SPF 50+: Great EWG rating, excellent UVA and good UVA/UVB balance, 19% zinc oxide, relatively cheap compared to others.
- Maui naturals all natural organics SPF 30: Great EWG rating, excellent UVA and good UVA/UVB balance, 20% zinc oxide
Daily facial moisturizers:
Yes, facial sunscreen should be part of your daily beauty routine in fighting premature aging. I currently use Elta MD’s UV elements tinted facial sunscreen which has great UVA/UVB protection with 10% zinc oxide and 5.5% titanium dioxide plus hyaluronic acid. It is non-oily, so it is great for oily skin. Sadly, I saw it wasn’t rated by EWG, so I am giving you my other top choices that are rated.
All of the products I list here contain some type of oil, so make sure you look into that if you have oily or acne prone skin.
- Nature Brand’s tinted face and body lotion SPF 30: I love this product! It comes in three shades and don’t worry if you are not sure what shade suits you best because for 0.99 cents you can get a sample! Also, it has a great rating by EWG, excellent UVA protection, good UVA/UVB balance and it has 20.5% Zinc Oxide. It is the cheapest of all options and also the lightest coverage, but still a great product.
- Juice Beauty Stem Cellular CC Cream: If you are looking for a bit more coverage with anti-aging care, this is your product! Available in 5 color shades. It also has a great rating by EWG, excellent UVA protection, good UVA/UVB balance and it has 20% Zinc Oxide.
- Suntegrity Skincare 5 in 1 Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen SPF 30: This one is slightly more expensive than the others, but it is a BB cream. So, it treats, hydrates, protects, primes and covers the skin. Available in 4 color shades. It also has a great rating by EWG, excellent UVA protection, good UVA/UVB balance and it has 20% Zinc Oxide.
And that’s a wrap!
I hope this helps you get ready for the summer or any sun filled destination you may be heading to!
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See you next week!