The Need to Know About Sunscreen

Sunscreen physical vs chemical

Growing up being sun-kissed and bronzed was the look. SPF wasn’t stocked in my cabinets, tanning accelerator was. In high school and collage I was definitely a tanning addict: I would go get a tan every other day, I worked at a tanning salon, and I was even creeping into that tan-mom territory (remember her?). To be honest, I never really thought about incorporating sunscreen into my daily routine until my mid to late-20s.

I realized at the rate I was going, i’d turn into a leather belt pretty soon. The reality of harmful ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) causing skin cancer and pre-mature aging started to settle into my mind a bit more.

I admit, even today i’m still pretty lazy about my SPF application. I hate smelly sunscreen, I hate thick sunscreen and I hate feeling greasy — got enough oil already. I generally apply SPF via my makeup, but is that enough? I wanted to better understand how sunscreen actually works, and to see if there’s other ways to incorporate it.

To really get sunscreen I had to first learn about UVA/UVB and also the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen. Here we go…

Sunscreen 101

What is UVA and UVB?
In short, UVA are aging rays, while UVB are burning rays. UVB penetrates past the skin’s surface into the epidermis, while UVA goes even deeper into the dermis level, which is where our blood vessels are. So basically you need to use products that can protect from both.

How Does Sunscreen Work?
Sun Protection Factor or SPF is a measure on how well that product stands up to protecting against UVB. So for example, an SPF 15 protects you from about 93% of UVB rays, an SPF 30 protects 97%, and an SPF 50 protects about 98%. Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB. No sunscreen protects you 100%.

It’s recommend to use SPF between 15 and 50 to be effective — anything higher doesn’t actually work better. The SPF type you should be using, is based off of what type of sun exposure you will be getting. Now, what makes this even more complex is that there are two types of sunscreens you should use to protect your skin in different ways: chemical and physical.

What is Chemical Sunscreen?
Chemical sunscreen contain organic ingredients that absorbs into the skin, that create a chemical reaction to UV rays by turning it into heat, which then gets released from the skin. For chemical sunscreen to be effective, you need to apply it 20 mins before sun exposure so it can absorb into the skin. Typical ingredients that make up chemical sunscreen are oxybenzone, homosalate, avobenzone, octocrylene, octisalate and octinoxate.

Pro: A little goes a long way. You can put a thin layer on your skin and it will still protect. Absorbs quickly into the skin.
Con: Can be more irritating to the skin causing redness or breakouts.

What is Physical Sunscreen?
Physical sunscreen uses minerals that reflect or bounce UVA and UVB rays trying to penetrate the skin. Physical sunscreen takes into effect immediately. Both zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are used for this type of sunscreen. Physical sunscreen is often referred to as natural or mineral.

Pro: These sunscreens are less likely to clog pores.
Con: These formulas typically feel heavier on your face. Not easy to blend either.

What to Look For in a Good Sunscreen?
Make it a broad spectrum sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30. Broad spectrum protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for sunscreens that are fragrance-free, say noncomedogenic (it wont clog your pores), are oil-free and paraben-free.

If you have acne-prone or sensitive skin, like myself, look for products specifically developed for sensitive or acne-prone skin types. It could actually improve the appearance of your skin.

Which Step is the Sunscreen Step?
If you are using a chemical sunscreen, this can be tricky because you should apply it before your moisturizer so it sinks in your skin better. But by doing this, your moisturizer may not work as well. So try and find a moisturizing sunscreen so it can double as both an SPF and moisturizer! If you are going to use a physical sunscreen, you should apply it after your moisturizer step.

Toxic Warning
There are studies that actually say some ingredients in sunscreen are carcinogenic (cancer causing) or harmful. Ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate are linked to hormone disruption or can even have an impact on coral reef life.

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