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With so many sunscreen choices on the market, it can feel overwhelming as to which sunscreen to use. I believe that having basic knowledge of how they work and understanding what the claims mean (SPF, broad spectrum, etc.) is important so you can make the best sunscreen decisions for yourself and your loved ones.
What type of sunscreen should I choose?
When choosing a sunscreen, it is important to know that there are basically 2 types of sunscreens: Chemical and Physical/Mineral
Chemical sunscreens (oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate) undergo a chemical reaction with the UV rays, absorbing them and then release the extra energy as heat. The sunscreen's chemical reaction is only for a limited amount of time. Hence, you will have to reapply every 2-3 hours to ensure you are still protected.
“Physical” or “Mineral” sunscreens (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) create a barrier of protection that reflect and scatter the UV rays. What is great about these sunscreens is that as long as the barrier is intact, meaning you haven't sweated or wiped it off, you will not need to reapply as frequently. However, it is always a good idea if you are intentionally exposing yourself to the sun (beach day, boat ride, sports event, etc.) to be sure to reapply every 2-3 hours just to be sure you are fully protected. Emme Diane Tinted Mineral SPF 40 and Illuminating SPF 58 are both zinc oxide/titanium dioxide sunscreens.
Note: while zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are marketed as physical sunscreens, to be accurate, both are inorganic chemical compounds with varying chemical properties. Meaning, they are also technically chemical sunscreens. Also, while zinc oxide is a mineral, when it comes to skincare and sun protection, the zinc oxide found in sunscreens is synthesized in a lab and does not come from a mine.
What does ‘Broad Spectrum’ mean?
Broad spectrum, which you have likely seen on your bottle of sunscreen, means that the sunscreen protects against both UVA (the "aging" rays that cause damage and cancer) and UVB (the "burning" rays that cause a sunburn). It is important to know that titanium dioxide only protects against UVB rays so you will want to make sure that it is mixed with a UVA blocker, such as zinc oxide or other chemical sunscreens, which will block both UVA and UVB rays.
What does the ‘Sun Protection Factor’ (SPF) mean?
When choosing a sunscreen, most of us tend to reach for the highest SPF rating so that we get the longest and best protection. However, you will be surprised to know that an SPF 30 vs. a SPF 40 only offers less than 1% more protection. Additionally, a 100 SPF is incrementally lessl. This means that an SPF 30 virtually offers the same amount of protection that a 100 SPF does. The key behind guaranteeing your protection lies in proper application and reapplication, rather than how high the SPF number is.
The basic calculation for an SPF is based upon how many minutes of sun exposure it takes for your skin to burn when exposed to the sun without sun protection. As an example, let's say it's 10 minutes. Your “burn” number is multiplied by the SPF of your sunscreen (let’s say this is a 30 SPF) which equals how many minutes of sun protection you will receive from one application. In this case, it would be 10 x 30 = 300 mins or 5 hours.
I find this equation to be flawed as it does not account for the elevation you are at, how close to the equator you are, the time of day when the rays are the strongest, the UV index based on the time of year, how much sunscreen is applied and it definitely does not account for sun damage which causes aging. Therefore, to simplify, I suggest that you make sure to wear a minimum of SPF 30 and reapply every 2-3 hours (sooner if you have been in the water or swimming). This will ensure you are protected from both a sunburn as well as sun damage that causes aging on the skin.
How much sunscreen do I need to apply?
The SPF protection will only be effective if you apply the correct amount of sunscreen. If you apply too little or too thin of a layer, it can be a fraction of the protection you were counting on.
For the body, 2 Tablespoons is the correct amount per application. This is equivalent to 1 shot glass full. Click here for more info about how much to apply.
How often do I need to reapply?
As far as reapplying your sunscreen, there are certain rules that must be followed.
If you are wearing a chemical sunscreen (oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate to name a few), which has a short-lived chemical reaction with your skin to protect against UV rays, you MUST reapply it every 2-3 hours in order to be protected from the sun’s rays. Yes, EVEN if you are wearing makeup and it’s just a normal day. Bummer, right? With zinc oxide/titanium dioxide sunscreens, it's still a good practice to reapply every 2-3 hours when you are outside as you may have sweat or wiped it off, but the protection itself lasts as long as it is intact on the skin. This is why I advocate for zinc oxide/titanium dioxide sunscreens for the face.
At Emme Diane, our Tinted Mineral SPF 40 and Illuminating SPF 58 are both zinc oxide/titanium dioxide sunscreens that create a physical barrier on the skin. On an average day, without sweating, swimming or wiping it off the face, the protection will generally last all day.
For the body, I generally prefer chemical sunscreens as the sunscreen ingredients are not easily wiped off by sand, the strap of your swimsuit or the kiddos grabbing you every 5 seconds!
However, new information has recently come out about chemical sunscreens found in the bloodstream, and while more will be revealed as to if there is cause for concern, there are also great zinc oxide/titanium dioxide sunscreens for the body that are water/sweat resistant.
Isn’t the SPF in my makeup enough?
While it seems like this should be sufficient, unfortunately there is a marketing loophole when it comes to SPF claims in makeup and moisturizers. While the SPF number is what is added to the makeup or moisturizer, diluted in the other ingredients, it would be a fraction of the protection you are expecting.
Also, most women are not applying a thick enough layer of foundation or powder to give the skin much sun protection at all. Therefore, it is very important to apply a sunscreen on your face before makeup application. My Mineral Tinted SPF 40 feels and acts like a makeup primer so it is amazing before you do apply your makeup!
Also, if you layer on an SPF 15 moisturizer, SPF 40 sunscreen and SPF 20 foundation, you would expect that you are wearing a total of 75 SPF, right?
Unfortunately, this is not the way sunscreen works. The total SPF limit is based on the highest number of SPF you are using, not the additive number. So again, it is best to use a sunscreen for your sun protection and be sure to apply the proper amount for full protection.
But what about my Vitamin D?
You've also probably heard that you need sun exposure to produce Vitamin D which is essential for your health and well-being. Unfortunately, many take this statement too far and don’t realize that you only need 15 minutes of sun exposure on 25% of your body per day to receive the correct dosage. On an average day, you are likely getting much more than this. Also, it is important to know that after reaching the production limit, too much sun exposure will actually destroy Vitamin D and decrease the levels of Vitamin D in your body. Most people are Vitamin D deficient because the soil our food is grown in has become nutrient deficient. Therefore, it is a good idea to ask your doctor to test your Vitamin D levels to see if you do need to supplement with Vitamin D.
What if it’s cloudy or stormy outside?
Many people think if it is a cloudy, stormy day, they don't need to wear their sunscreen. This is one of the biggest skin myths of all! Let's look at it from a commonsense standpoint: what lights up the earth? The sun. And even if it is a stormy day, is there still enough light for you to see your hand in front of your face? You bet! This means that the most damaging and aging UVA rays are still very present and in some cases, reflect off of water particles causing them to intensify. So, it is a myth that you do not need sun protection if the sun is blocked by clouds! Come rain, sleet or snow, please apply your sunscreen!
What if I don’t leave my house?
As you probably guessed, my answer remains the same, apply your sunscreen daily to protect your skin. Interestingly enough, certain types of light bulbs can actually emit low levels of UVA light that could be aging your skin. Read more about this from my article in New Beauty: The Surprising Indoor Activity That Is Aging Your Skin
What else can I do to protect my skin from the sun?
While many believe that simply wearing sunscreen is sufficient, if you are serious about vigilantly protecting your skin from the sun, below are additional ways you can increase your sun protection:
Seek shade. If you must be outdoors for a prolonged period of time, try to stay in a shaded area. Under a pop-up tent if you are at your child’s soccer game or in a cabana or under an umbrella by the pool or beach.
Wear sun-protective clothing. There are many stylish UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing/swim cover ups these days, such as Cabana Life. Also, a wide brimmed hat is a must as are large lens, polarized sunglasses with a UV filter to protect the eyes.
Enjoy foods that help protect your skin from UV damage, including fish that is rich in omega-3’s, dark leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, red, orange, blue and purple fruits and vegetables and green tea to name a few. Also, studies have shown the Vitamin D3 in the form of Nicotinamide (found in the supplement Heliocare*) helps maintain your skin’s ability to protect itself against the aging effects of free radical damage from the sun.
*Always check with your doctor before taking a new vitamin or supplement.