Skin cancers are more prevalent than ever: one out of every five Americans will get skin cancer at some point in their lives. About 90 percent of the time, the risk of developing skin cancer is directly related to the amount and intensity of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure one receives from the sun. Fortunately, it’s easy to limit excessive UV exposure — and lower your risk of skin cancer — with the regular use of sun protection. Sunscreen is an important part of the equation and finding the right one for your specific needs can be a challenge.
Seventeen sunscreen ingredients have been approved for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); they include both chemical and physical substances.
The question is, which sunscreen ingredients are right for you? For example, babies and toddlers have different sun protection needs than adults, while sunscreens made for dry skin may not suit people with acne or rosacea. The following guide should help you find the right sunscreen for your skin’s needs.
Chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) and cinnamates, absorb UV rays and convert the sun’s radiation into heat energy. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Many of these sunscreens are ineffective and studies have shown in addition to hormone disruption, skin penetration, skin allergies, cell damage and other concerns.
Physical sunscreens such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide deflect and scatter the rays before they penetrate your skin.
Sunscreens that use mineral filters as the primary active are called physical, inorganic or mineral sunscreens. The active mineral ingredients in sunscreens are zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide is a naturally occurring mineral that is formed from the metal zinc and titanium dioxide is also a naturally occurring mineral that is formed from the metal titanium.
These mineral filters create a physical barrier on the top of the skin. The Mineral filter sunscreen molecules reflect and scatter both UVA and UVB rays from the skin. That's why mineral sunscreens are effective on application. Unlike chemical sunscreens, the mineral filters do not break down and release heat into the skin.
Non-Nano Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are Safe and Effective
Both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safe and very stable in formula and when exposed to the sun. They are not absorbed by the skin and therefore do not cause allergic reactions. Chemical sunscreens tend to cause more allergic reactions.
Noncoated nanoparticles (less than 35 nanometers in diameter) of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can be toxic to corals, fish and other reef organisms. The safest sunscreen filters are non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Incidental vs. Intense exposure: For starters, the kind of sunscreen you use may vary depending on the type of outdoor exposure you are expecting. It was once widely believed that a 15 SPF product offered sufficient UV protection under most conditions. Over the last few years that school of thought has changed. It is now known that, often more sun protection is desirable. It's ideal to select a sunscreen that blocks enough UV rays to adequately protect your skin type. Use the Sun Protection Factor Guide to help determine your skin type and appropriate SPF. If you have very fair or sensitive skin, a history of skin cancer, or take photo-sensitizing medications, you may need a higher SPF. Extended periods of sun exposure also call for a higher SPF.
Your sunscreen should have broad spectrum protection, meaning it effectively protects against significant portions of both the ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) ranges of the light spectrum. Most broad-spectrum formulas contain multiple sunscreen ingredients. You should use a broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. SPF 30 filters out up to 97 percent of the sun’s UV radiation; SPF 50 filters out up to 98 percent.
For children’s skin: Chemicals can irritate children’s sensitive skin; PABA and oxybenzone have been associated with skin reactions. The physical sunscreens zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to be better tolerated by people with sensitive skin and can usually be found in sunscreens for babies and children. Also, since getting children to use sunscreen is half the battle, try spray sunscreens or tubes with colorful packaging, which children may find more enjoyable to use. Consumer Reports has advised against spraying sunscreen on your kids. The FDA has already determined that sprays can be a fire hazard and potentially cause severe burns if they do catch fire. That’s why they recommend against spraying or being near an open flame.
For allergy, acne, and rosacea-prone skin: Patients with allergy-prone skin or conditions such as acne or rosacea should avoid products containing preservatives or fragrances, as well as those containing PABA or oxybenzone. Again, the ingredients least likely to cause skin reactions are the physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Acne-prone patients should avoid greasy sunscreens (often marketed as “creams”), since they may exacerbate breakouts. However, people on topical acne medications, which tend to be drying, may find gels too irritating on their sensitized skin and may benefit from a light lotion or cream base. Since some acne medications increase sun sensitivity, making wearers more vulnerable to burning and skin damage, rigorous daily sun protection is especially important.
For dry skin: Dry skin can benefit from moisturizing sunscreens. Moisturizing sunscreens are often formulated as creams, lotions, or ointments, so look for these terms on the label.
For people with melasma, a history of skin cancer, or very fair skin: For patients with a blotchy brown discoloration of the skin called melasma, those who have had skin cancer, or those who are very fair, sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ is recommended daily for extra protection. Since most people do not actually apply enough sunscreen to achieve the SPF listed on the container, frequent reapplication (after two hours out of doors or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily) is especially important.
For darker skin tones: Individuals with darker skin who tan easily and rarely burn may feel they do not need to use sunscreen. However, like sunburn, a tan is the result of DNA damage from exposure to the sun’s harmful UV radiation.
For the older person: Although older individuals may have already received large amounts of UV light exposure in their lifetime, they can still benefit from sunscreen use. At any age, unprotected sun exposure increases the risk of developing new skin cancers and precancers; it also accelerates skin aging, leading to age spots, wrinkles, sagging, and leathery skin.
Sunscreen is an important part of a sun protection regimen that should also include seeking the shade, avoiding UV tanning, and wearing protective clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. By educating yourself about your many sunscreen options, you can be confident that the product you choose will fit your needs, offering you the best protection from the sun’s harmful rays — and helping to ensure that you use it regularly. After all, the sunscreen you apply consistently is the best sunscreen of all.
Love Sun Body 100% Natural Origin Mineral Sunscreens are the first and only sunscreens in the U.S. certified by Ecocert Cosmos Natural and have been clinically tested hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. Love Sun Body 100% Natural Origin Mineral Sunscreens meet the regulatory requirements of the FDA OTC Monograph System and the European Commission’s recommendation on UVA protection. Love Sun Body sunscreens non-nano mineral active ingredients are obtained from naturally occurring substances that are formed through geological processes, excluding fossil fuel-derived materials.