Is Your Sunscreen Really Protecting You?
Go get your sunscreen and check the ingredients list. We’ll wait.
Does your sunscreen contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide? Yes? Congratulations. You are not just protecting your skin from a nasty burn; you are also suppressing the formation of age-accelerating free radicals that are triggered by UV exposure.
What? Your sunscreen doesn’t contain either of those ingredients? We need to talk.
If you’re not using the right sunscreen, you’re not getting the broad-spectrum protection you think you are. And you may be getting a dose of harmful chemicals as an unwanted bonus.
First, let’s talk about the differences between chemical and physical sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens are the most common on the market. As the name implies, they contain chemicals that are absorbed into the skin where they work to neutralize UV rays. However, these only work against UVB rays, meaning they are great for helping you avoid a burn, but they’re not protecting you from UVA rays, the ones that generate the highly reactive free radicals, which activate inflammation, inhibit the skin’s immune response, accelerate aging, and may lead to the development of skin cancer.
Additionally, many of the chemicals used in these sunscreens can be harmful over time. One of the worst offenders, oxybenzone, is absorbed into the bloodstream and is known to be a hormone disruptor and potential skin irritant. This one appears in about 80% of chemical sunscreens on the market. Be on the lookout.
Physical sunscreens are mineral based and rely on zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These minerals sit on the surface of the skin where they reflect UVA and UVB rays away from skin, giving you protection from burns and from harmful free radicals. Because they are not absorbed into the skin, they don’t cause irritation and they don’t enter the bloodstream or buildup the way those in chemical sunscreens often do. Zinc oxide has the strongest UVA filtering capability of any ingredient approved by the FDA. Titanium dioxide, also good, but less effective than zinc oxide.
Don’t be fooled by SPF numbers. The higher number doesn’t necessarily correlate with higher protection. First, SPF refers to UVB protection, the amount of time you can remain in the sun before getting burned. It tells you nothing about protection from UVA radiation.
Second, there is a point of diminishing return. Anything above 30 provides marginal increased protection, and may be increasing your exposure to chemicals. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays. Bump up to 50 SPF and you get only a 1% increase in protection. And while SPF increases, the amount of UVA protection does not increase proportionally. Plus, the higher number tends to give people a false sense of security that often leads to increased sun exposure. For these reasons, regulators in Europe and Australia have capped SPF levels at 50.
For day to day sun protection under your foundation, try Vivant’s Day Treatment Lotion SPF 15, a light, non-comedogenic, UVA/UVB foundational moisturizer with zinc peptides and healing whole leaf aloe.
For extended exposure or outdoor activity, look for a broad spectrum, mineral-based sunscreen with zinc oxide as the active ingredient, no more than 50 SPF. Apply liberally before and during sun exposure.
We also recommend using Pure C + E daily as an SPF booster. Studies show that the synergistic combo of vitamins C and E, its active ingredients, provide enhanced photoprotective benefits.
Best advice remains to limit sun exposure especially during the hottest part of the day between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., wear a wide-brimmed hat and sun protective clothing. Be especially careful to cover up sensitive areas like the décolletage.