There’s nothing like getting some ‘vitamin sea’ on a hot, sunny, day! But a lovely day in the sun can be damaging to your skin.
Being under the sun for too long exposes us to harmful UVB and UVA rays. UVB rays can penetrate the surface layers of our skin causing sunburn and minor inflammations. UVA rays on the other hand penetrate deeper into the skin. The damage UVA rays cause can be more serious and it runs the risk for cellular changes. Premature aging, wrinkles, and age spots are some of the damages that UVA rays can bring to your skin. Sadly, both UVB and UVA rays can cause skin cancer.
We cannot stress this enough --everyone needs to wear sunscreen!
Types of Sunscreen
But you shouldn’t just wear any sunscreen. There are two main types of sunscreen: mineral and chemical sunscreen. To create a barrier that will keep UV rays from penetrating the skin, sunscreen is made with active ingredients that are either mineral or chemical-based.
Mineral sunscreen acts as a physical skin barrier that blocks and scatters UV rays away from the skin. These are like super tiny mirrors that deflect ultraviolet rays. Mineral sunscreens can block both UVA and UVB rays. Those containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients are mineral sunscreens.
Mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin to create that physical barrier. One benefit of this is that they immediately work as soon as they are applied. However, since it is a film that sits on top of the skin, mineral sunscreen can easily be rubbed, sweated, or rinsed off.
When wearing mineral sunscreen, reapplication should be frequent especially when you’re out swimming or when you perspire too much. It also needs to be applied liberally so that the skin can have adequate protection.
One thing that can be a bit annoying with mineral sunscreens is that it tends to give off a visible white cast on the skin. Yes, it is the creator of that cringe-inducing white gunk from sunblocks. Because of this, mineral sunscreens now come in spray and powder form.
Although they look better than traditional sunscreen lotion, sprays and powders can cause disadvantages to both our health and marine life. These forms of mineral sunscreen make use of nano-titanium oxide and nano-zinc oxide. When inhaled, they can cause lung damage since these are very small particles that can get into our system. They also cause problems for marine life. When nanoparticles get into the ocean through the drain or from the beachgoers, they can be toxic to coral reefs. Yes, even if they are labeled safe for reefs, they may still contain nanoparticles that have just been recently tagged as a cautionary ingredient.
The biggest hint to find out if your sunscreen is made with nanoparticles is how it looks like when applied to the skin. Those made with nanoparticles almost disappears on the skin. If you dislike the white cast from mineral sunscreens, it is better to go for the tinted version.
Instead of sitting on top of your skin, chemical sunscreens are absorbed and they sit deeper into the skin. They work by absorbing UV rays and transforming them into heat that gets released from the skin. These are sunscreens containing oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, octisalate, and/or homosalate as active ingredients.
The problem with chemical sunscreens is that they may not be able to protect the skin from UVA rays since they work within the deeper layers of the skin. This is also the type of sunscreen that needs around 20 minutes to properly set before it does its magic.
When it comes to reapplication, direct exposure to light depletes chemicals easily. Reapplication should be done frequently with direct sun exposure. Chemical sunscreens tend to clog pores so it isn’t an ideal choice for acne-prone skin. They can also cause problems for heat-sensitive skin and those who are prone to rosacea and hyperpigmentation.
Using chemical sunscreen has its benefits but there are some ingredients to watch out for. The FDA has found that oxybenzone (including benzophenone-3 and avobenzone) has been linked to many health risks including endometriosis 2 and reproductive problems in men. Pregnant women should also be wary of the ingredient as it may be a cause for preterm labor and birthing complications.
Both octinoxate and oxybenzone are also found to be toxic to coral reefs. These ingredients damage corals, cause coral bleaching, and disrupt the marine ecosystem.
Forms of Sunscreen
Lotions are your safest bet. They give the most amount of protection and they reduce the risk of inhalation and lung exposure.
Creams work best with dry skin. They are similar to lotions but they tend to be greasier.
Gels are easier to apply to hairy areas like the scalp, legs, and arms.
Sticks offer convenience in both application and package.
Sprays are easy to apply but it is difficult to tell if you are applying enough of the product. It also poses the risk for product inhalation.
These are usually applied in the form of cosmetics. There is more risk of inhalation when it comes to sunscreens in powder form too.
What is a broad-spectrum sunscreen?
Sunscreens that protect you from both UVA and UVB rays are broad-spectrum sunscreens. Most mineral sunscreens are considered broad-spectrum sunscreens.
What SPF do you need?
SPF or Sun Protection Factor measures the level of protection sunscreen has against UVB rays. There is no rating for UVA protection. SPF is based on the length of time before the skin gets sunburned compared with and without sunscreen application.
The recommended SPF is 30. After SPF 50, there is only a small increase in time of UV protection.
How does water-resistant sunscreen work?
Water-resistant simply means that the SPF lasts for up to 40 minutes in water and very water-resistant gets you up to 80 minutes of SPF in water.
Should I use sunscreen when it’s cloudy?
Yes, UV rays can still pass through clouds.
Choosing the best sunscreen is completely up to the lifestyle you have. Your best bet is always to do your research and check your labels. Think about what’s best for your skin but don’t forget to make sustainable choices for the environment as well. We only have one planet and now is the time to make more eco-friendly decisions.