The BEST and WORST Sunscreen Ingredients

Why Sunscreen Matters

With Memorial Day just around the corner and summer a stone’s throw away (or already here depending on where you live), your sunshine time is increasing daily.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know sunscreen is important.

What you may NOT know is that your sunscreen choice can make a HUGE difference.

Choose the wrong sunscreen and you increase your chances of skin aging (hello wrinkles and sunspots), sunburn, and skin cancer.

Since nobody wants that, I’m helping you choose the best and most effective sunscreen options.

The Best Sunscreen Ingredient

Not all sunscreens are created equally. Some sunscreens are superior (meaning they contain the best ingredients, are broad spectrum, and clean ingredient-wise) while others have much to be desired.

I’m going to give you the 20,000 foot level on this one. If you want the nitty gritty details, check out this post.

There are two main active ingredients in various sunscreens - 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.

For a sunscreen to be effective, it needs to block UVA and UVB rays. In other words, it needs to be broad spectrum. Even better is to pick a sunscreen that blocks UVA1, UVA2, and UVB rays.

The only FDA approved sunscreen that protects against UVA1, UVA2, and UVB rays is zinc oxide (a PHYSICAL sunscreen).

This means zinc oxide is the most comprehensive sunscreen and the ingredient you should pick (barring the unusual allergy or contraindication).

THE SPF YOU SHOULD PICK

SPF (or sun protection factor) assesses a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB rays.

So what do the SPF numbers mean? Different SPF numbers are associated with different percentages of UVB ray blocking.

SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays. Increasing to SPF 30 takes you to 96.7%. And SPF 70 blocks 98.6% of rays.

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 fine with SPF 30. However, if your dermatologist has suggested otherwise, please follow their instruction.


INGREDIENTS TO AVOID IN SUNSCREEN

Now you know the best active sunscreen ingredient (zinc oxide) and most appropriate SPF (usually 30).

So what else should you remember when picking a sunscreen?

You should remember there are some ingredients to avoid.

Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid

  • Dioxybenzone - this chemical sunscreen has estrogenic effects in the body.
  • Methylisothiazolinone - this is a preservative found in many sunscreens (including those marketed for children). This preservative is highly allergenic and sensitizes skin.
  • Octinoxate - this chemical sunscreen is being banned in Hawaii for harming coral reefs.
  • Oxybenzone - this chemical sunscreen is being banned in Hawaii for harming coral reefs. Also, it has hormonal effects in the body (estrogenic effects in women) and may alter sperm production.

Go Forth & Pick the Best Sunscreen for You

Remember zinc oxide, SPF 30, and my “ingredients to avoid” list. This way when you pick out new sunscreen for your Memorial Day weekend plans, you can make the best choice possible to keep your skin in tip top shape.

In health and happiness,
Skye