Summer is quickly arriving and so begins a world of questions regarding sunscreens for the face and body for me. It’s such a complicated subject, filled with marketing in your face and a ton of misinformation. I’m here to clear the confusion and help you find a sunscreen that will truly protect you from aging AND skin cancer.
Chemical vs Physical
One of the first arenas that I’d really like to clear up for you is the differences between physical and chemical sunscreens. The most widely used physical sunscreens are Zinc and Titanium Dioxide. They’ve been around forever (remember the days of the lifeguard with the zinc on their nose?) and they truly remain the gold standard for sun blocking. These sunscreen bases are safer and handle more sun wavelengths that most of the chemical sunscreens do.
Physical sunscreens work by reflecting the sun’s rays away from your body while chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays. Zinc, Algae and Titanium have the benefit of covering a significantly broader array of the sun’s ray, with Zinc being by far the best. Additionally, those physical sunscreens protect far better from UVA rays (UVA=the rays that age you) than any chemical sunscreens do. If you’d like to prevent ugly age spots on your face and body, make sure your sunscreen has a physical sunblock in it!
The other advantage to physical sunscreens is that they are far more stable than chemical sunscreens. This, in my opinion, is the main reason to make sure that you are using a sunscreen with a Zinc, Algae and/or a Titanium base to it. When you are spraying your body with an SPF 70 chemical sunscreen, you feel very safe and well protected due to the number on your SPF. But the unfortunate reality is that you are being protected for LESS TIME than someone using an SPF 30 with a physical sunblock base in it.
Why? Because of the photostability of the type of sunscreen you are using. For example, if you are using an SPF 70 spray, the chemicals in it stay stable in sunlight for approximately 80 minutes (in one study, some of these become unstable in as little as 30 minutes!!) but yet if you have chosen a physical sunscreen with a Zinc base with a SPF of 30, it remains stable in the sun for nearly 4 hours! There is a fantastic powder sunscreen with Zinc and Titanium that has been proven to stay stable for 8 hours even at an SPF of 30! The stability of these products will protect you FAR better than any sunscreen with an SPF of 70 or higher.
More About Algae Based Sunscreen
I mentioned above Algae based sunscreens, it is a new and amazing way to not just block the sun but reduce aging at the same time. Blue-Green Algae is a Cyanobacteria, to be precise, which has spent billions of years evolving to thrive in the sun’s harsh UV rays. I know to some the thought of spreading bacteria on your face sounds scary, but it is this Algae that brought us the oxygen we need to survive. This oxygen/bacteria combination actually improves your skin while protecting it from the sun’s rays! Rebecca Boyle of Popular Science magazine explains, “Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, manufacture special sunscreen molecules called mycosporines and mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs). The compounds protect the bacteria by absorbing ultraviolet light.” Your skin is already covered in bacteria, imagine that this healthy Algae brings superior and extremely safe sun protection to you as well!
Why the SPF Number Doesn’t Make That Much Difference
The numbers on your sunscreen can be very misleading; many folks feel that by doubling your number on your SPF you’re doubling your protection level. The truth of the matter is there is only a slight change in the percentage of coverage you’re getting when you raise your SPF level.
- With an SPF 15 you are blocking 93% of the sun’s rays
- In a SPF 30 you are blocking 97% of the sun’s rays
- At an SPF 50 you are blocking 98% of the sun’s rays
- Any number higher than that has virtually no difference than an SPF 50
To make matters worse, to get to the higher SPF numbers they began using strange chemicals that some folks believe put you at a higher risk of other types of cancer by using them. So they are not only not working better but they could in fact be harming you!
I’m Afraid Zinc Will Make Me Look Pasty White
Fortunately for all of us Zinc has come a long way! Most of today’s Zinc based sunscreens have been micronized (made into tiny particles.) This means you no longer need to have a pasty white face or body to have the benefits of a great sunscreen. Additionally, many companies have begun to add some color to their sunscreens, especially those sunscreens used on the face. This makes your face look even better than just applying any old sunscreen! So there’s no need to worry about being pasty any more. If you’re still worried about the white out effect, try using an Algae based sunscreen instead.
Which Brands Do You Prefer?
There are so many amazing sunscreens on the market today but the following are my personal favorites.
For the Face:
SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion – a great sunscreen that you can sweat and swim in, has a little color in it so it covers some flaws in the skin too
Colorescience Sunforgettable – a powder sunscreen that stays stable for 8 hours and you can easily carry it in your purse and apply over makeup. It’s also waterproof/sweatproof
ZO Skin Health’s Oclipse Sunscreen + Primer – a great sunscreen for daily use that applies like a makeup primer and won’t break you out. It has some color and antioxidants in it too, you could actually use it as your makeup base
Obagi SunShield Broad Spectrum SPF 50 – a creamy SPF that works fantastically on dryer skin types. Make sure to look for the SPF 50 in this product, the SPF35 doesn’t feel as nice on the skin
Jeunesse Luminesce Daily Moisturizing Complex – an innovative Algae based sunscreen that not only protects your skin but also reverses aging
For the Body:
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive SPF 30+ – I think they may know a few things about sunscreen in Australian. This brand has done an amazing job protecting my family for many summer vacations
Organic Baby Sunscreen SPF 32 by Nurture My Body – a great (but pretty pasty white) formula that is safe for your littlest ones, free of chemicals
These are my personal favorite choices, I don’t carry them all in my office but quite frankly, I just want to make sure that you are buying a quality product to protect yourself with. So if you decide to purchase some other product, just make sure you turn the bottle around and make sure your choice includes Algae, Zinc or Titanium in a nice, high percentage!