Summer is almost upon us, and with that, comes increased sun exposure. Sunscreens protect the skin by preventing and minimizing the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. These damaging effects can cause not only sunburns but skin cancer, pigmented spots, premature aging, and wrinkles. We all know that this is beneficial, but with all the available choices and different sunscreen formulations and brands, how does one pick what’s right for them?
If you’re like most people, too many choices can confound you, give you anxiety, and you end up just giving up and not even choosing anything, or worse, make an uninformed decision. But fear not, dear reader, I have the solution for you! I have broken down the science of sunscreen to a more palatable and understandable way.
Types of sunscreens
Chemical Sunscreens: These are the sunscreens that are most popular. They become “invisible” on your skin after application. These contain organic compounds that are able to absorb the high energy UV rays and convert them to heat energy that is released from the skin. Because they are easily absorbed by the skin, these can have the potential for systemic absorption. So I typically do not recommend these for pregnant or breastfeeding mom, children/babies, or people with sensitive skin. Certain chemicals in these such as oxybenzone and octinoxate have been shown to be harmful to the coral reefs, so I typically do not recommend these to patients that go in the ocean or do aquatic activities. Here are my favorites:
PCA Skin Weightless Protection Broad Spectrum SPF 45-Lightweight and quick-absorbing, this SPF is the favorite of my male patients. It also contains calming bisabolol and caffeine and other antioxidants. Great news for ocean lovers: this does not contain oxybenzone or oxtinoxate!
Elta MD UV Clear-This oil free sunscreen has a lightweight formulation that feels silky. It helps calm and protect sensitive skin types prone to discoloration and breakouts associated to acne and rosacea. It contains niacinamide (vitamin B3), hyaluronic acid and lactic acid, ingredients that promote the appearance of healthy-looking skin.
MDSolarSciences Everyday Nourishing Lotion SPF 50-There are a few sunscreens that are great for head to toe protection, and this is one of them! It’s lightweight formula absorbs quickly and seamlessly. It is also enriched with Vitamin C, rosemary, seaweed and green tea extracts, this formula helps restore brighter, healthier-looking skin.
Physical blockers-Also called “sunblocks”, these have mineral or inorganic compounds that reflect of block the skin from UV light. Common examples of mineral sunscreens include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These are not absorbed in the skin, so there is low potential for systemic absorption. They also do not cause allergic or irritant reactions in the skin. This is my go-to type of sunscreen because of their safety record. It is interesting to note, though, that though physical sunblocks are considered reef-safe, there are some studies showing that Zinc oxide can actually cause coral bleaching, but more studies are needed to definitively say this. I have a lot of favorites, but I will only name a few.
PCA Skin Sheer Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 45-I am totally in love with this one! I use this everyday because it is so versatile. It has a universal tint which looks great on everyone (even my male patients love this), water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and it has the antioxidant Ubiquinone. It is also formulated for the body in an easy-to-use spray format.
Skinceuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50-This lightweight and sheer physical SPF is incredible with or without makeup. It is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes and it has Artemia Salina, a plankton extract that has been shown in studies to help protect the skin from thermal stress.
Revision Truphysical Intellishade SPF 45-This anti-aging and moisturizing sunscreen that is designed to deliver the power of 5 anti-aging products in 1. It has broad spectrum coverage, helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, brightens and evens skin tone, helps skin appear firmer and lifted, restores the skin barrier, and contains beneficial green tea extract, lecithin to reduce the appearance of pore size, and a blend of White Birch Extract, Yeast Extract, Plankton Extract and Coenzyme Q10.
Blue Lizard Australian Baby Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+-This is my go-to recommendation when parents ask me about what is a good SPF for their babies. It is free of parabens and fragrances as well as being reef-safe.
MDSolarSciences Mineral Kid Crème SPF 40-Another fave for the young ones, this gentle, emollient unscented and water-resistant crème is perfect for children’s delicate skin. It even has antioxidants Vitamin E, CoQ10, green tea, and pomegranate extract.
Skinmedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield SPF 35 Sunscreen-I love this sheer, untinted physical SPF because it glides on smoothly without leaving a white cast on your skin. It is non-comedogenic and free of parabens, fragrances, and oils.
I hope this helps you find the sunscreen you will fall in love with. As always, make sure you apply about a teaspoon of sunscreen for your face, another teaspoon for the neck and chest, and if you’re going to be covering your entire body, you need a shot glass full of sunscreen. Don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours if you’re out in the sun!
Be safe and be well!
Written by: Paula Purpera
Gabros, S., & Zito, P. M. (2019). Sunscreens and Photoprotection. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537164/
Bernstein, E. F., Sarkas, H. W., Boland, P., & Bouche, D. (2020). Beyond sun protection factor: An approach to environmental protection with novel mineral coatings in a vehicle containing a blend of skincare ingredients. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 19(2), 407-415. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7004163/
Corinaldesi, C., Marcellini, F., Nepote, E., Damiani, E., & Danovaro, R. (2018). Impact of inorganic UV filters contained in sunscreen products on tropical stony corals (Acropora spp.). Science of The Total Environment, 637, 1279-1285. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29801220/
Paul, S. P. (2019). Ensuring the Safety of Sunscreens, and their Efficacy in Preventing Skin Cancers: Challenges and Controversies for Clinicians, Formulators and Regulators. Frontiers in medicine, 6, 195. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6736991/