Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Choose a Sunscreen

I have a confession to make: I only began applying sunscreen daily within the last couple of years. I have olive skin, which means that I tan without trying. Burning has never been an issue for me. And, for years, I never gave sun damage a second thought.

Until I turned 30 and looked in the mirror.

Ah. There it was. All my hours of sun worship taking up residence on my face in the form of hyper-pigmentation and even a few wrinkles. All that to say, I've been on a bit of a mission to preserve what's left of my skin. Which brings me to the point of this post: not all sunscreens are created equal.

There was a time, not too long ago, when buying a "good" sunscreen meant choosing one with a high SPF number. Well, in recent years there's been a bit of research done. They've determined that while UVB (burning) rays are responsible for sunburn and most non-melanoma skin cancers, it's the UVA (aging) rays that penetrate the skin more deeply, causing the majority of wrinkles and photoaging, as well as the more aggressive skin cancers. (As a side note, tanning beds primarily use UVA rays, another reason to avoid them.) SPF only measures UVB protection. So, if you're buying sunscreen only based on the SPF number, you may not be as protected as you think you are.

What's needed is a broad-spectrum sunscreen. One that blocks out both UVA and UVB rays. Even if the bottle says "broad spectrum" you've got to check the ingredients. (Federal regulations allow sunscreens and daily moisturizers with sun protection to be labeled "broad spectrum" even if they provide only partial UVA protection. They are working on a UVA-rating system that will eventually be implemented). Here's what to look for:

1) an SPF of 15 or higher for UVB protection

2) contains at least one of the following: Mexoryl, Helioplex, avobenzone (aka Parsol 1789), titanium dioxide or zinc oxide
While all the above ingredients block out some degree of UVA rays, the only one that blocks UVB, plus all (meaning long and short wave) UVA rays is zinc oxide. It's the closest thing to a total sunblock available. The good news is that zinc oxide has come a long way in the last few years. The latest formulations use a microfine form, which means you won't look like Casper at the pool. What's more, zinc oxide is non-irritating (there are no known adverse reactions) and it's safe for sensitive skin. (I use it on my kids.) Another added benefit is because it's a physical block (like titanium dioxide), you don't have to wait 20 minutes before going out in the sun. Once it's on, you're protected.

I am still on the lookout for a daily-wear zinc oxide sunscreen. So, what I've been using is a broad spectrum with avobenzone for daily wear. When I hit the pool or know that I'm going to have significant sun exposure that day, I use the zinc oxide lotion that I put on my kids.

Invest in a good sunscreen this summer. Apply it liberally and often. (And be sure to protect your neck and chest, as well as the back of your hands as part of your daily routine, whether you're at the pool or not.) When it comes to sunscreen, the old adage holds true: an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.
For more frump fighting tips, head on over to see Karla, who is generously hosting Fight the Frump Fridays while Fussy snuggles her brand new baby!


sarah said...

I totally agree. I have given up on the whole tan wannabe thing. I just burn and peel and freckle.

Happy FFF!

Darla said...

I still like a tan. *sigh* I didn't get tan last year at all (my first year ever).

Valarie said...

So your telling me that my moisturizer that I faithfully wear might not be protecting me from age causing sun??? I am gonna have to go home and check the ingredients on that bottle.

Emy said...

So, what brand do you use on your kids??

Darcie said...

Whoever said you can't learn anything from a blog was wrong.

I did not know this, but I'm glad I do now. Thanks!

Michelle@Life with Three said...

I use Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen. It's chemical free (i.e. no avobenzone), which works great with my daughter, who has extensive eczema. There are several different varieties of Blue Lizard, but I think most all of them have zinc oxide and some even have titanium dioxide (be sure to read the label). Hope that helps!

Rachel said...

Great post!! We use the Neutrogena 85 with the Helioplex. We live on the coast so we wear it daily.
Fabulous fight the frump post!!

Alicia said...

My skin is starting to show evidence up too much unprotected sun, too. Thanks for the info.

Emy said...

Thanks!! My son has really sensitive skin and a touch of eczema so sunscreen has always been a problem. I going out today to get this!