There are so many different sunscreens on the market and often the information we read or hear in incorrect. Picking out a sunscreen for you our your family can be overwhelming. We breakdown some common terms found on sunscreen labels and what they mean.
Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen
Active ingredients in sunscreens function as either chemical or mineral UV filters. Each UV filter uses a different mechanism of protecting our skin from harmful UV rays in sunlight.
Mineral sunscreens lay on top of our skin and reflect UV rays away from our body, which is why mineral sunscreens are often called physical sunscreens. Minerals provide a physical barrier between our skin and the harmful sun’s rays.
Both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are natural occurring mineral compounds that maintain their physical protective ability from the harmful sun’s rays, unlike chemical ingredients that tend to breakdown in the sun. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide reflect and reduce both UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays) supplying you with ample protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Some sunscreens might have mineral and chemical ingredients in the same product. As always, read the label and check the ingredient list; especially those with sensitivities or allergies. Those who are acne prone or have more sensitive skin on the face may require a different sunscreen for body and face.
The most common sunscreens available, especially OTC (over the counter), are sunscreens containing chemicals. The most common chemical ingredients are avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, octoleryne and Padimate O. Even though these chemical compounds have been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), research shows potential risk for some chemical compounds. There are some general concerns about some chemical sunscreens, as we now know we absorb more than originally thought, but this has not shown to be harmful to humans.
Several studies show that oxybenzone directly contributes to coral bleaching. Chemical sunscreens, overall, have been found to cause viral infection and starvation in corals. Oxybenzone is equally toxic to other marine wildlife species, such as fish, as it is to coral. In order for mineral sunblocks to leave corals untouched, they must be “non-nano”, meaning the ingredient particles must be above 100 nanometers in size so that they cannot be ingested by corals. Typically, most companies will label their products as “reef-safe” but always check the ingredients to be sure.
What Does SPF Mean?
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) the number itself (ex: SPF 50) only monitors the UVB or burning rays, not the UVA or aging rays. So you could be using an SPF of 100 but only protecting yourself from the burning rays of the sun while providing no protection from the aging rays. Regardless of the SPF, it’s important to apply one ounce (two tablespoons) 30 minutes before going outside and reapply at least every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.
You may need to try several different sunscreens to determine which one you prefer. While choosing your favorite sunscreen can be left up to personal preference, there are two things you should not compromise on: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF 30 or higher with broad-spectrum protection. If you are planning on spending significant time outside, you will want a water-resistant SPF 30 or higher for sun protection. Value of SPF is important but broad-spectrum coverage is equally important.
What Does “Broad Spectrum” Mean?
Both UVA and UVB rays can damage your skin leading to risk of sunburns, unsightly brown spots, premature aging, wrinkles and most importantly skin cancer. Broad spectrum means it is protecting you from both UVA and UVB rays which is essential to keep you and your skin healthy.
It’s important to apply a good sunscreen daily to protect your skin even when it’s cloudy or raining to prevent photoaging in the form of brown spots, collagen break down and potential skin cancer. Debbie Connatser, FNP of Southeastern Dermatology says, “my favorite sunscreen is the one that you will use consistently and reliably.”