Let’s Talk Sunscreen
It’s coming up to summer and while you should be protecting your skin year round, it is especially important as the temperature rises and UV index gets higher.
But how do you know which sunscreen to choose?
There are so many variations of sunscreen, it can be hard to know how to pick. Physical (natural) vs chemical, high SPF or low SPF, nano particles vs non-nano particles and it seems like every brand makes their own. Where to even begin!
We’ve put together a helpful guide to help answer some common questions and aid you on your journey to becoming sunscreen savvy.
Physical Vs Chemical
First of all, what even is a physical sunscreen?
It definitely a term that lends itself towards the natural side of things, which is what we love. You will run into this term a often if you are looking into which sunscreen to buy. Essentially, where chemical sunscreen absorbs the sun’s rays, physical sunscreen will deflect them.
We always recommend a physical sunscreen over chemical. When you wear sunscreen, you want to protect yourself against harmful UVA and UVB rays, so having them absorbed into your body along with the ingredients of chemical sunscreens seems counterintuitive. Not only can this lead to irritation, but chemical sunscreens contain synthetic ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate. These ingredients have a high EWG rating (the EWG, or Environmental Group, researches the effect of the chemicals we use on the environment) and they are toxic to coral reefs, among other things. It is always a good idea to research what you are absorbing into your body. When purchasing a sunscreen, here are some ingredients to watch out for::
- Oxybenzone is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can mimic hormones and is linked to all sorts of hormone related troubles, which can cause issues with your reproductive systems, thyroid, and insulin levels to name a few. Octinoxate is also hormone mimic. In the ingredient list look for ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, oxybenzone or octinoxate.
- Silicones are used in sunscreens to create a smooth feel and provide water resistant qualities. They can clog pores and are known to cause skin irritation. In the ingredient list, look for dimethicone
- Synthetic preservatives which are being linked to neurotoxicity, allergic reactions, and hormone disruption. In the ingredient list, look for methylisothiazolinone (MIT), diazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin, quarternium-15 18 or 26, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) to name a few.
- Retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A) is not a toxic itself, but it has been shown to be photosensitive, meaning it may increase the chances of developing skin cancer, skin damage, and skin aging when exposed to sun. In the ingredients look for retinyl palmitate or vitamin A palmitate
So what is in a physical sunscreen then?
Physical sunscreens contain mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. Zinc oxide protects against UVA and UVB rays, while titanium dioxide protect mainly against UVB. These sunscreens can contain any other number of ingredients, but should have a minimum of 5% (ideally between 10-20%) zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
Fun facts about Zinc Oxide
- Used to treat skin abrasions, cuts, burns and irritations.
- Great for acne and skin oiliness
- Has antibacterial properties
- Has been used in both treating skin conditions and makeup since the first century
Nanoparticles vs non-nano particles.
As you look into physical sunscreens, some will boast non-nano zinc particles on their labels. But what does this even mean?
A nanoparticle is a particle smaller than 100 nanometers, or 100 billionths of a meter. Thats beyond tiny. The problem with nanoparticles is that while in powder form they can cause lung damage. Research shows the the use of nano sized zinc oxide is completely safe for humans in lotions, and many makers of mineral sunscreens choose to use it because it is less whitening. Given the fact that this research is still relatively new, however, and that research also shows it may cause damage to marine life we will continue to steer clear given the choice.
But I’ve heard titanium dioxide is bad for you?
Research shows that titanium dioxide applied in a lotion to your skin is perfectly safe. The damage linked to titanium dioxide comes from ingesting it, especially in the powder form. So, as your mother always told you, please don’t eat your sunscreen. Or otherwise ingest it.
What about flashback?
If I use that white looking sunscreen, won’t it show up in my photos? Especially when they use the flash? I don’t want to blend in with my wedding dress.
Here’s the downlow. The amount of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide need to make a higher SPF sunscreen does lend a whitish tint to your skin. But if you use the correct amounts and rub it in enough, you’ll be fine!
As far as the flash goes, if you don’t see it in real life you won’t see it in your photos. The only time it may be an issue is if a direct flash is used. Think paparazzi cameras flashing bulbs a mile a minute- no wedding photographer would do that! It is much more common for them to use a bounced flash or natural light . But if you are concerned about it, ask your photographer! We think your skin is much more important anyways.
How Do I Know What SPF To Choose?
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is one way of measuring the level of protection a sunscreen can give you from the sun’s rays.
Here’s a handy little cheat sheet I found on the internet to help you determine what SPF to choose:
How to Calculate an SPF That’s Right for You
Fair skin — can stay in the sun 10 minutes before burning
Olive skin — can stay in the sun 15 minutes before burning
Dark skin — can stay in the sun 20 minutes before burning
Multiply the SPF by the number of minutes you can stay in the sun before burning. For example: (SPF) 20 x 10 (Fair skin) = 200 minutes (amount of time you can stay in the sun before burning if you have Fair skin and use an SPF of 20).
SPF 15 will filter out approximately 93% of the UVB rays, and is recommended as the minimum amount of SPF you should wear. (in comparison, SPF 50 will block out 98%.) Other factors you should consider include how much you sweat, how much you apply, the weather conditions and if you will be swimming, how long you will be in the water etc.
So physical sunscreens are chemical free and chemical sunscreens are full of chemicals. Right? Wrong. Be wary of anything that calls itself chemical free – everything in the universe is made up of chemicals. Chemicals aren’t all bad! But make sure you educate yourself on what you could be potentially absorbing so you can make an informed decision what to goes in your body.
Other Sun Safety Tips
Obviously the best way to protect yourself from the sun’s rays is to stay out of them. Wherever possible, stay in the shade and wear clothes that limit your exposure to UV.
But if you want to soak up some rays and get that vitamin D, we hope this has been a helpful guide on how to protect your skin.
Some other things you should remember
Avoid being in direct sun the times of day where the sun is highest in the sky
Don’t forget to also protect your eyes with sunglasses
When applying sunscreen, don’t forget your back, lips, nose, ears, feet, scalp and other places you might forget. These are some of the top places that people have found common type of skin cancers.
Get out there, enjoy that sunshine and blue skies and love yourself and your skin.
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