Remember the days when mom or grandma would essentially bathe you in a bottle of super white sunscreen and make you stay out of the water for 15 minutes while “it soaks in.” Well, its the thought that counts, right? Fast forward twenty or thirty years and we know a lot more about sun protection these days. From ingredients and safety to effectiveness and environmental impact, we have a new understanding of what we should be doing.
Let’s start by talking about the purpose of sunscreen. The sun emits many different types of rays, but the most damaging are called ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are two categories of UV rays that reach our skin, UVA and UVB. There are about 500 times more UVA rays than UVB rays in sunlight. UVB rays are most responsible for sun burns and skin cancer development. UVA rays penetrate deeper and cause premature skin aging, wrinkles, brown spots, and play a smaller role in skin cancer formation. It is important that we protect our skin from both types!
The active ingredients in sun protective products act as either a mineral or chemical UV filters. In the past, the most common sunscreens contained chemical filters. Ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, or homosalate are considered chemical filters and they work by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing heat from the skin. These ingredients are more efficient at blocking UVB rays, but when several are used in one product, some UVA protection is possible too. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide might remind you of the lifeguards in the 80s, but they knew what they were doing. Zinc and titanium are mineral filters which work by sitting on the surface of the skin, deflecting or scattering the UV rays like a mirror. Zinc oxide is the only single ingredient on the market that blocks all UVA and UVB rays. This is the only ingredient that alone offers broad spectrum coverage. Titanium dioxide is a close second because it blocks all UVB rays and about half of the UVA rays.
So why the recent buzz about chemical sunscreens? First, the recent focus on environmental preservation has encouraged studies like the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology study. They have demonstrated that even 1 drop oxybenzone or octinoxate has a toxic effect as wide as 6.5 Olympic-size swimming pools. As many as 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off our bodies each year and these chemicals are causing coral reef bleaching, toxicity to fish, and destruction of coral larvae. Country wide bans on these ingredients are now being enforced in places like Palau, Bonaire, Key West, and soon to be Hawaii. Second, the desire for “cleaner beauty products” has put many ingredients under the microscope. Studies are demonstrating that chemical ingredients like oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions, can alter birth weight in babies, and might even affect the endocrine system including sex hormones and thyroid hormones. The CDC found that more than 96% of Americans will test positive for this ingredient! The FDA has recently put the entire sunscreen industry on alert by reporting that there are only two instances with enough safety information that would be considered “safe”: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. For the other 12 ingredients, the FDA has stated we don’t have enough information to determine the safety and they want to prevent unintended health consequences by enforcing further studies. In addition to the these potentially dangerous active ingredients, 50-70% of sunscreen is made up of inactive ingredients. One of the most common is the preservative methylisothiazolinone. Recent studies indicate that this ingredient is a very common skin allergen and may be causing more detrimental effects than we initially thought.
Clearly, mineral sun protection is the way to go. After reading this long essay about sun protective products, I’m guessing you’re looking for a few recommendations. Great news, we have compiled a list of our top 4 favorite products that check all the boxes and won’t break the bank!
More to Explore: Senté Invisible Sheild Full Physical, SkinMedica Essential Defense, ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica, Revision Intellishade
For any questions, please reach out to us at 212-433-3344. We're happy to offer you a complimentary skin care consultation to get your post-Summer Skin healthier than ever!
Lauren & Team