Is SUNSCREEN safe?
The Best Sunscreens out there, plus a FREE cheat sheet.
Should you wear sunblock? And if so how often? What do the SPF numbers mean? What is Zinc or titanium dioxide? Which ingredients are harmful? What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays? Do I need protection against both? These questions can leave us feeling overwhelmed when buying a new sunscreen. In this post, I break down and answer the most common sunblock questions. I’ve researched the most reliable information and condensed it. Consider this your cheat sheet.
Some people have opted out of using sunscreen altogether believing it may be causing more harm than good. A research done by Consumer Reports in 2016 found that 43% of the tested sunblocks actually didn’t meet the SPF claims on their labels and in 2017 23% didn’t meet their claim. Studies such as the previously mentioned, aids in choosing a sunscreen that actually works! Not wearing sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer and premature aging (more details later) but many people are concerned with the toxic chemicals found in some popular sunscreens.
Researchers, doctors, and dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen daily as it is essential to keep your skin youthful, wrinkle-free but most importantly cancer free. With so many options for sunblock and sunscreens on the market, it can be confusing and difficult to choose. The American Association of Dermatologists (AAD) recommends using ‘broad spectrum’ which protect against both UVA and UVB rays that cause skin cancer. Also, broad-spectrum offers protection against free radicals found in the environment.
Who should use sunscreen?
• Everyone. People of all skin colors can get skin cancer. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in more than 2 million people are diagnosed annually.
• Many of these skin cancers could have been prevented with protection against harmful
The American Association of Dermatology recommends the following:
• Use ‘Broad Spectrum,’ this means purchasing a sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays. Sunscreens that are not labeled Broad Spectrum will only protect against UVB rays.
• Always use SPF 30 or higher
• Use water-resistant sunscreen (40-80 minutes)
• Reapply every two hours
• Wear sunscreen even on cloudy days
• Remember sun rays are most active between 10 AM and 4 PM.
• Take extra caution near water, snow, and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun and can increase your chance of sunburn.
• Avoid tanning beds, as they can cause skin cancer and wrinkling of the skin.
• Get vitamin D safely through vitamin supplements and a healthy diet.
‘Broad-Spectrum’ water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher should be applied to all exposed skin.
What is SPF?
SPF means Sun Protection Factor; a number usually follows it. The figure represents how much protection against UVB rays a sunscreen offers. For example, SPF 30 will only block 97% of UVB rays.
Another way to think about SPF is to think about how much longer you can stay in the sun before you get sunburned. For example, if I use SPF 15, I can stay in the sun 15 times longer and not get sunburned than if I wasn’t wearing any sunscreen. However, other factors such as location, skin complexion, and time of day should be considered.
Sunscreen becomes less effective after wearing it for about two hours; even if you are wearing SPF 50, it should be reapplied after two hours or after sweating/swimming.
What are UVA and UVB rays?
Products with high UVA protection offer higher protection or completely block free radicals from the skin. Dr. Wang from AAD says, “Exposure to UVA rays and UVB rays can lead to the development of skin cancer. This is why choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects the skin from both types of rays is so important.”
Sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays that reach the earth – ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Overexposure to either can lead to skin cancer.
In addition to causing skin cancer, here’s what each of these rays does:
• UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkles and age spots. the UV rays penetrate through window glass.
• UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn and are blocked by window glass.
The US Dept. of Health & Human Services & the World Health Organization’s International Agency of Research on Cancer has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance). There is no safe way to tan. Every time you tan, you damage your skin. As this damage builds, you speed up the aging of your skin and increase your risk for all types of skin cancer.
What is the difference between a SUNBLOCK and SUNSCREEN?
The difference between Sunblock and sunscreens is that they are composed of different chemicals and therefore react differently to UVA/UVB rays.
SUNBLOCK: Sunblock is typically made up of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as the active ingredients. Sunblock naturally has a thicker, white consistency. Most people don’t prefer sunblock because it’s difficult to spread, leaves a white-ish film on the skin and can almost never be worn under makeup.
SUNSCREEN: Sunscreen is made up of chemicals that absorb harmful rays before they penetrate your skin. Many people with sensitive skin may react to some of the chemicals used such as oxybenzone or avobenzone. Make sure that if you use sunscreen, it doesn’t have insect repellant since many sunscreens are usually formulated with it. AAD recommends opting for a sunscreen without insect repellant since it is recommended to apply sunscreen every couple of hours but not insect repellant.
Verdict: Nowadays, Sunblock and Sunscreens are blended, make sure you read the label. Sunblock and Sunscreen both offer protection against harmful rays, but if you have a skin allergy or sensitivity make sure you understand the labels carefully. Today many brands use a blend of both of their products.
What type of sunscreen should I use?
The AAD recommends that the best kind of sunscreen is the one you will use consistently. Make sure it offers broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection, an SPF of 30 or higher, and water-resistant. The following is from their website:
• Creams are best for dry skin and the face.
• Gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest.
• Sticks are good to use around the eyes.
• Sprays are sometimes preferred by parents since they are easy to apply to children. Make sure to use enough of these products to cover the entire surface area thoroughly. Do not inhale these products or apply near heat, open flame or while smoking.
• There also are sunscreens made for specific purposes, such as for sensitive skin and babies.
MD Solar Sciences Mineral Creme Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 $30