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What to look for when purchasing a sunscreen?

We all know sunscreen is important, and like I wrote in the last blog, everyone needs to wear it every single day. I explained the reasons why and the health benefits it provides, but do you know what to look for when purchasing a good sunscreen? I get asked almost every day what brand of sunscreen is best. Honestly, it’s not about the brand or where you buy the sunscreen, it really has everything to do with what is in the sunscreen.

You may notice that I refer to sun protection as sunscreen, never as sunblock. The term sunblock is not FDA recognized as the correct term for sun protection, because there is no lotion on the market that can completely “block” out the sun’s harmful rays. Sun protection creams and lotions “screen” out the sun’s harmful rays, hence the term sunscreen, which is recognized by the FDA as the correct term.

Let’s talk about what to look for when purchasing a good sunscreen, so you can feel comfortable knowing you are using the best sunscreen for your skin type while protecting it with the best ingredients on the market. There are two main types of sunscreen on the market. There are physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Let me break down the differences of the two…

Physical Sunscreen – Physical sunscreens work by reflecting UV radiation away from the skin. The most commonly used ingredients are titanium oxide, zinc oxide, and iron oxide, which are all minerals. I prefer this type of sunscreen myself, because these minerals do not penetrate the skin, which results in less adverse effects and irritation. Most people tolerate this type of sunscreen, even those with hyper-sensitive skin and acne prone skin. The only down side to this type of lotion is that it can leave a white or pasty residue on the skin, which may make this a better choice for people with lighter skin tones. Fortunately, skin care has come a long way and there are now physical sunscreens on the market today that have almost no pasty residue due to finer mineral particles making it a good choice for even darker skin tones. There are even tinted varieties available.

Chemical Sunscreen – Some people prefer the texture and elegance of a chemical sunscreen, because the creams or lotions are not heavy or oily and do not leave a white film on the skin. It applies more like a skin moisturizer.  However, chemical sunscreens are known to cause irritation and allergic reactions such as dermatitis. Unlike physical sunscreen that reflects UV radiation away from the skin, chemical sunscreen actually absorbs the UV radiation, which is a different way of protecting the skin. The most common physical sunscreen ingredients are benzophenones (benzophenone-3 or oxybenzone), butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, methoxycinnamate, methylbenzylidene-camphor and aminobenzoic acid.

Both types of sunscreen are effective at sun protection, so deciding on which type to use is a personal preference. Something else to keep in mind when purchasing a good sunscreen is to remember to look for a seal of approval. You want to use a sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection and carry the seal of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and/or the Skin Cancer Foundation. The FDA requires that a sunscreen that carries the label “broad spectrum” must provide protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.

Lastly, I don’t want you to be fooled in thinking a sunscreen that is labeled water-resistant or waterproof will last longer than one that is not. Clinical studies have shown that even these formulas will wear off after 30 minutes or more spent in the water or after sweating. They can also rub off easily when toweling off after a swim or workout. Rule of thumb is to reapply every 2 hours when outdoors, every 30-60 minutes when swimming or sweating, and here in Colorado using SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 30 or higher is mandatory for protecting your skin.

If you would like to try the sunscreens we recommend in our office, please email us or make an appointment. Have fun, stay safe, stay healthy.

 

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