FYI: Sunscreen is Not Just for Summer

Sunscreen at Center | Photo by Sam Deitch

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! 


  1. EltaMD UV Elements – This all physical, SPF 44 sunscreen is tinted with a hyaluronic acid moisturizing base. It is safe for all even the most sensitive skin and contains 10% zinc oxide and 5.5% titanium dioxide.  It is fragrance-free, dye-free, gluten-free, oil-free, paraben-free, sensitivity-free, non-comedogenic, and water-resistance for up to 40 minutes. 

  1. Alastin HydraTint Pro – This all physical, SPF 36 sunscreen is rich in antioxidants, light weight, and contains a universal tint to enhance most skin tones. It contains 8.9% titanium dioxide and 3.4% zinc oxide as well as 6 plant-based extracts that help to prevent against environmental pollution. 

  1. MD Solar Science Mineral Crème, Mineral Tinted Crème, & Mineral Moisture Defense – This brand is focused on creating high quality sunscreens that are safe for both your skin and our precious coral reefs. These three all physical, SPF 30-50 sunscreens contain 17% zinc oxide and 2% titanium dioxide along with a long list of natural ingredients for the skin including Vitamin C, Green Tea Extract, Cranberry Fruit Extract, Vitamin E, Chamomile, Grape Extract, Rose Hips, Seaweed Extract, and Pomegranate Extract.  There are also non-comedogenic, oil-free, fragrance-free, and water-resistant up to 80 minutes.  The Mineral Tinted Crème is universally tinted, while the other two are lightweight matte clear formulas. 

  1. ColorScience Sunforgettable Total Protection Duo – This is a unique combination of two sun-protective products, a lotion and a powder. The lotion, aka Face Shield, contains 12% zinc oxide and is applied in the morning.  The powder is used for re-application and is applied through a brush applicator.  This exclusive delivery powder system contains 22.5% both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.  Both products are non-greasy, non-whitening, hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, paraben-free, oil-free and lightweight.

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

Lauren Mitschrich PA-C Lauren is Center's Board Certified Physician Assistant and specializes in Cosmetic, Medical, and Surgical Dermatology. Her passion for all things aesthetic and "natural look" approach make her a unique perspective for our patients. She brings her love of aesthetics and dermatology to Center, practicing at the intersection of art & science with her patients - she understands the physiology of your skin, the building blocks of your beauty, and the trust you put in her to help you become the best version of you, ever.

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