There are a dizzying array of sunscreens to choose from, with a variety of ingredients and formulas from lotions to sprays. And you might have noticed, sunscreen prices can range from reasonable to outrageous. One of the first things you should look for is “broad spectrum.” This means it blocks both UVB and UVA radiation.
Next, you need to decide which type of ingredients will ensure that broad spectrum protection: physical or chemical. If you have very sensitive skin, you can opt for the physical blocks which use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. Think of the lifeguards from days gone by with their noses painted with the stuff that looked like white or pink frosting—that was zinc oxide.
There are options among today’s physical sun blocks that won’t leave a big chalky mess on your skin (and everything you touch thereafter). We carry several physical sun block sunscreens in the office that are non-whitening and dry clear. There are also some widely available physical sunscreens that are tinted for use on the face so the active ingredients don’t make you look white and ghostly. Others for the face promise a matte finish as opposed to the shiny look some sunscreens have. Ask us for recommendations that fit your specific preference.
If brown spots, or melasma, are an issue for you, research has shown that using a sunscreen with iron oxides gives greater protection to the block visible light that causes this skin discoloration. Even though iron oxide might be listed as an “inactive ingredient” on the label, it is providing additional protection if the product has least 2% iron oxide.
Tinted sunscreens often have iron oxides and this is why I believe tinted sunscreens are much better for the face.
The two physical blocks in sunscreen that will protect you are: zinc oxide for ultraviolet light protection and iron oxide to protect from visible light. These two ingredients are deemed to be safe and effective by the FDA.
I carry several products for your face that will protect from both visible light and ultraviolet light:
- skinbetter Tone Smart SPF 68 sunscreen compact
- Revision Intellishade TruPhysical
- Dermatology Boutique BB cream
Skin drops by ISDIN will add visible light protection to your favorite broad spectrum sunscreen and by mixing the two, you can create your own BB cream.
If you are concerned about brown spots or melasma, look for iron oxide as an ingredient. You may have to look up your product online to see the full list of all sunscreen ingredients. Iron oxides will not be listed as a sunscreen ingredient. Sometimes only the “active ingredients” are listed on the product packaging.
Chemical sunscreens usually have a nicer feel on the skin and are transparent. They have active ingredients with names like Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone or Octinoxate. The FDA is now calling for more safety data on these six ingredients. The FDA has not said these ingredients are unsafe, nor has it asked the public to stop using sunscreens with these ingredients.
Oxybenzone is the chemical sunscreen that is causing a lot of controversy regarding its effect on coral reefs. No one is certain yet on its effect on the environment, but it is banned in some U.S. states and other beach locations.
Some sunscreens combine chemicals and mineral-based physical block ingredients. So if you think your skin reacts to the chemicals, chose those which only have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Your most important purchase decision is to select at least SPF 30.
There are many other considerations to selecting and using sunscreen properly. For example, some sunscreens come with insect repellent. While this might seem convenient, the fact is that you need to reapply sunscreen far more frequently than bug repellent. Buy separate products and be sure to reapply your sunscreen at least every two hours. For your first application, and whenever possible, put sunscreen on first, before you put on your clothes so you don’t miss areas when clothing stops and skin begins.
Other added ingredients to some sunscreens on the market are antioxidants, which are believed to protect healthy skin cells, although some experts believe it is better to apply an antioxidant serum first, under your sunscreen. The most popular antioxidant serum contains vitamin C stabilized with vitamin E. At the office we offer SkinBetter’s Alto Defense Serum for the face and ISDIN’s Flavo-C Ultraglican ampoules.
Be on the lookout in the future for more options in the sunscreen aisle! Soon, sunscreen ingredients that have been in use in Europe and Asia for many years will be introduced in the U.S.
Seek Shade and Wear Protective Clothing and a Hat
There is one thing to remember about sunscreen: it doesn’t make you bullet proof. It is just one part of protecting yourself from the damaging rays of the sun. Seek out shade especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and wear protective clothing and a hat.