Imagine you have painstakingly planned a tropical vacation — you saved your money, secured transportation, and reserved the best imaginable accommodations. This is the trip of your dreams and you are ready for some serious leisure time.
It’s the night before you leave and your bags are packed.
Then you realize, you need to get sunscreen so you dash to your local pharmacy, grab the sunscreen that’s on sale, and quickly pack it into your bag without a second thought.
Now you’re all set to go.
Or are you?
What if your sunscreen choice, like most people’s, was increasing your chances of skin aging (hello wrinkles and sunspots), sunburn, and skin cancer? How would that make you feel?
My guess is not so great. That’s why I’m here to give you the basics on sunscreen and help you pick the best and most effective product. And because I love you so much, check out the end of the article for a FREE downloadable sunscreen purchasing guide.
Let’s take a mini quiz.
Let’s say you are going on vacation to Hawaii and decide you need sunscreen. Which sunscreen sun protection factor (SPF) should you use?
A. SPF 2
B. SPF 15
C. SPF 30
D. SPF 70
We'll get to the answer soon.
What Sunscreens Are
Sunscreens are products that limit the skin’s exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. They partially block harmful UV radiant. Sunscreens do NOT block the sun. In fact, the FDA changed labeling requirements so sunscreens cannot market themselves as “sunblock.”
What UV Radiation Is
UV radiation is energy from the sun. The main damaging effects of the sun on skin is attributed to UV rays. They damage the DNA of skin cells and can ultimately lead to cancer.
There are three main types of UV radiation.
1.) UVA rays: These rays age skin cells and damage DNA. UVA rays are associated with wrinkles and play a role in skin cancer. Tanning beds typically give off large amounts of UVA rays. There are two types of UVA rays - UVA1 and UVA2.
2.) UVB rays: These rays damage skin cell DNA and are associated with sunburns and skin cancer.
3.) UVC rays: Do not typically penetrate our atmosphere and do not normally cause cancer.
Bottom line: UVA and UVB rays can cause cancer.
What SPF is and What the Numbers REALLY Mean
SPF stands for sun protection factor and assesses a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB rays. Recall UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and skin cancer.
So what do the SPF numbers mean? Different SPF numbers are associated with different percentages of UVB ray blocking.
See my table below.
SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays and SPF 30 blocks 96.7%.
Going beyond SPF 30 has very small gains in sun protection. Furthermore, sunscreens with SPF over 30 typically have more negative side effects.
For this reason, most folks are best with SPF 30.
The Quiz Continues
Now that you know the best SPF to purchase, you realize there is a HUGE variety of sunscreen products each containing different active ingredients. Which of the following is the best sunscreen active ingredient?
C. Para Amino Benzoic Acid (PABA)
D. Zinc oxide
Keep reading for the answer!
The Sunscreen Mistake Most People Make
There are two main types of sunscreen: Chemical and Physical.
Chemical sunscreens — as their name suggests — utilize chemicals that absorb UV rays after they enter the skin. Examples of chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, dioxybenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, oxybenzone, and padimate O.
Physical sunscreens, in contrast, form a protective layer on the skin and reflect UV rays before their enter the skin. They form a physical barrier of protection against UV rays. Examples of physical sunscreens include zinc oxide and titanium oxide.
Most people use chemical sunscreens, which is a MISTAKE.
Why Physical Sunscreen is Better
For a sunscreen to be effective, it needs to block UVA and UVB rays. In other words, it needs to be broad spectrum.
Most chemical sunscreens only protect against UVB rays. While this is helpful, it does not protect you against UVA rays, which are known to cause skin damage (such as wrinkles) and cancer.
There are two chemical sunscreens that are considered broad spectrum. These are dioxybenzone and oxybenzone.
Recall there are two types of UVA rays (UVA1 and UVA2). The problem with dioxybenzone and oxybenzone is they only protect against one type of UVA rays (UVA2). They do NOT protect against UVA1 rays. Furthermore, oxybenzone and dioxybenzone have hormonal effects in the body (estrogenic ones).
The only FDA approved sunscreen that protects against UVA1, UVA2, and UVB rays is zinc oxide (a PHYSICAL sunscreen).
Bottom line: Zinc oxide is the active ingredient you want in your sunscreen.
Zinc oxide is the only FDA approved sunscreen that protects you against harmful UVA1, UVA2, and UVB rays. No other single sunscreen can do that.
The words “zinc oxide” may conjure images of thick, pasty, chalky, white sunscreen in your mind.
And historically, that is what zinc oxide products were like.
Thank goodness for technological advances. Now there are zinc oxide formulations that apply clear and feel weightless.
So you don’t have to sacrifice comfort or appearance for protection.
As we covered, SPF 30 is adequate for most people.
In terms of the best sunscreen active ingredient, zinc oxide is your pick. And basically the higher the percentage, the better off you are.
Your FREE Downloadable Sunscreen Buying Guide
To make finding the perfect sunscreen easier, I’ve created a sunscreen buying guide. It contains the details you need to make sure you get the most out of your sunscreen. It also includes my current favorite sunscreens (as usual, I don't have any financial relationships with the products I suggest)
Read the guide below or download here.
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