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Ultimate Guide to Sunscreen

Ultimate Guide to Sunscreen

Spring has officially sprung! I know my clients are looking forward to walking, biking, and running outside. Many are planning Spring Break adventures and Summer Vacations. Whatever your plans may be, as the weather gets nicer and with Summer around the corner, you need to protect your skin.


Benefits of Sunscreen

I know applying sunscreen is somewhat of a nuisance. You have to stop what you’re doing, dry off, reapply, wait for it to soak in, then get back to it. It can make you feel greasy. It can make your clothes stick to you. It can get in your eyes when you get wet or sweat. It can irritate your skin and make you break out. Not to mention getting a little color on your skin looks nice.

The major benefits of using sunscreen include:

  • Protection from sunburn - Exposure to the sun without protection can result in a sunburn. There are first, second, and third-degree levels of sunburns. Each level increasingly damages the outer and under layers of your skin.

  • Reducing your risk of skin cancer - Studies have shown five blistering sunburns as a teenager can significantly increase your risk for skin cancer.

  • Protecting you from sunspots - The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause hyperpigmentation, creating sunspots, also known as age spots or liver spots.

  • Reducing the signs of aging - Sun exposure can damage the collagen and connective tissues of your skin; this can cause you to lose elasticity and gain wrinkles.


Understanding Active Ingredients

There are so many different types of sunscreens and sunblocks available. How do you know which one to use? Oh, and if you’re like me and didn’t know the difference between sunscreen and sunblock, here’s a quick explanation. A chemical sunscreen limits sun damage using different chemicals. Physical or mineral sunblocks sit on the skin and reflect light away. There are only two physical sunscreens with FDA approval; zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Here are some key ingredients included in sunscreens and sunblocks:

  • Mexoryl SX - blocks UVA1 rays; these are the longwave rays that make your skin age.

  • Oxybenzone - filters out UVB and UVA rays. However, studies found it negatively contributes to the bleaching and poisoning of coral reefs. As a result, it’s banned in Hawaii and Australia. If you're looking for a “green” sunscreen, you’ll want to look for something that doesn't contain Oxybenzone. And if you have sensitive skin, you’ll want to avoid this ingredient.

  • Octinoxate - is a UVB absorber, so it’s great for preventing sun damage. When combined with avobenzone, together they provide broad-spectrum protection against burns and aging. That being said, this ingredient is banned in Hawaii, Key West, and Palau due to harmful effects on reefs and aquatic life.

  • Avobenzone - blocks the full range of UVA rays. On its own, avobenzone destabilizes when exposed to light. That’s why it’s often paired with other ingredients, like Mexoryl, to help stabilize it. Avobenzone is also combined with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, but those combinations are banned in the United States.

  • Titanium Dioxide - is a broad-spectrum UV filter, but it doesn’t block long UVA1 rays, which increases the potential for skin aging. The FDA approves the use of titanium dioxide on children older than six months. Using this ingredient in spray forms should be avoided as oral exposure is labeled “possibly carcinogenic.” Please note that titanium oxide nanoparticles are not limited to sunscreen; they are found in other SPF products like makeup, lotions, and powders.

  • Zinc Oxide - is safe to use, but research shows that it’s not as effective as chemical sunscreens. And it isn’t as effective in protecting against sunburn.

  • PABA and Trolamine Salicylate PABA are strong UVB absorbers, but the ingredient's popularity has declined because it increases allergic dermatitis and photosensitivity.


Things to Consider

After that quick chemistry lesson, who knows, you might be on Jeopardy someday; what should you look for when buying sun protection? We got you covered! (see what I did there)

  • Broad Spectrum Coverage - the sun emits different types of ultraviolet light. The label “broad-spectrum” means the product protects against UVA and UVB rays.

  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) - dermatologists typically recommend a protectant with a High SPF, like 30 or 50. Nobody is perfect about continually applying sunscreen while they’re outside. The thought process is, if you start with a high SPF, like 50, at least you started with higher coverage if you forget to reapply.

  • Water Resistance - even if you don’t plan to be in the water, dermatologists suggest using a water-resistant formula to protect from sweat and splashing around. A lot of Spot formulas are labeles as water-resistant.

  • Application - read the directions for the product you’re using. See how often you need to reapply the product based on your level of activity (taking a 4 mile hike, watching your kid play baseball, spending the day on your boat). Is it every two hours? Do you have to apply it to dry skin?

  • Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants (oh my!) - Sun exposure can deplete your skin, so look for a product that contains products like Vitamin E. You can protect and replenish your skin at the same time. Also, after you've been out in the sun, be sure to drink plenty of water, and use an after-sun lotion. After-sun lotions counteract the drying effects of the sun and environmental elements.

  • Know your skin - take into account your skin type when you’re choosing a sun protectant. If you are prone to breakouts, a product that contains alcohol might help fight breakouts. If you have sensitive skin, look for hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products. If you have oily skin, look for lightweight lotions or gels with ingredients like silica or isododecane. And if you naturally have darker skin, you’re not safe from getting sunburnt. Yes, it’s true, you have more melanin in your skin which provides some natural protection from the sun, but sun exposure without protectant can increase skin damage and aging.

  • Cover all your parts - your face, lips, scalp, ears, and tops of your feet can get sunburnt, so don’t forget to cover them. Can you use the same product everywhere? Sure, but you should look at specific products for your face and lips. This will keep you safe and comfortable. And while these are not lotions or creams, be sure to wear a hat to protect your scalp and sunglasses to protect your eyes and prevent crow's feet.

  • Check the weather - the worst sunburn I had was on a cloudy fall day. It was the fall, it was dreary out, there were plenty of clouds, and I was watching my son play soccer. That’s right, you can get a sunburn in the fall and winter. Most weather apps show the daily maximum UV index. The higher the number, the more intense the sun, so the higher SPF you should use.


Our favorites:


  • Glossier Invisible Shield - SPF 35

  • Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen - SPF 40

  • Bondi Sands Fragrance-Free Daily Sunscreen Face Lotion - SPF 50

  • Tula Daily Sunscreen Gel Broad-Spectrum - SPF 30

  • Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Sunscreen - SPF 50


  • Sun Bum Original Sunscreen Spray - SPF 30

  • Banana Boat Sport Ultra - SPF 50

  • Hawaiian Tropic AntiOxidant + Sunscreen Lotion - SPF 50

  • Oh My Bod! - SPF 50

  • Austrailan Gold Botanical Mineral Sunscreen Lotion - SPF 50

  • Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Spray Broad-Spectrum - SPF 50

  • COOLA Organic Body Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum - SPF 50


  • Sun Bum Lip Balm Watermelon - SPF 30

  • COOLA Organic Mineral Sunscreen Tinted Lip Balm Broad-Spectrum - SPF 30

After Sun Care

  • Sun Bum After Sun Cool Down Lotion

  • Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration Weightless After Sun Lotion

  • California Baby Aloe and Arnica Soothing Spray


Final Thoughts

You need to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays and other environmental elements. You can do that with either sunscreen or sunblock. If you’re traveling abroad, make sure the sunscreen you bring meets environmental regulations. When you apply sunscreen, make sure you cover all your parts, ears, tops of your feet, hands, underarms, etc. If you are wearing thin material, make sure you put your protection on while naked. The sun's rays can penetrate lightweight fabrics. Check your product's expiration dates; yes, it can expire and leave you exposed. When you’re Spring cleaning be sure to go through your cabinets and toss any old product. Then restock your gym bag, your golf bag, your pool bag, your picnic basket, and your diaper bag with one of our favorites.

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