Did you know that there are more than 2,000 over-the-counter sunscreen formulas available in the US? With all of the available options one should never be caught out in an extended session in the sun sans sunscreen. But how do you know which sunscreen is the right one for you to use? Which is deemed safest? Which gives you the best bang for your buck?
All sunscreens have one job to do: Protect your skin from absorbing excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Too much UV causes damage to the skin DNA which can lead to all kinds of unacceptable outcomes from early wrinkling to sunburn to skin cancer. Did you know that sunlight contains different levels of UV radiation? It has UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. The A and B versions are what we are trying to filter out when we use sunscreen. The C version usually gets filtered out by the Earth’s atmosphere so we do not normally concern ourselves with it.
Some sunscreens contain physical UV filters. These work by reflecting the UV rays so it cannot be absorbed by the skin. The main ingredients in these versions are zinc oxide and titanium oxide. The great thing about this type of sunscreen is that it starts protecting you immediately when applied to your skin. It is also usually nontoxic and does not irritate the skin and eyes. It is also deemed very safe for constant use because the particles used for reflective protection do not get absorbed by the skin. It is also very resistant to being degraded by sunlight.
Another type of physical sunscreen type is the use of certain clothing that is designed to reflect UV rays. However, that is not within the topic scope of this article. We’re talking about stuff you can slather on your skin. There are sunscreen versions that rely on a chemical filter based on Avobenzone. However, the negatives of this type of sunscreen are so great as to preclude discussing it as a serious option, one of the worst of which is that it could be carcinogenic. Who needs that? An important thing to think about when choosing a sunscreen is just how long it will remain effective while being constantly barraged with sunlight. This is known as photostability.
You should be aware of just how photostable your sunscreen is so that you don’t get caught thinking you are protecting yourself when you aren’t. The good thing about sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is that they are photostable up to and beyond two hours. However, if you are using a product with avobenzone, it could be completely degraded after one hour of exposure. Even worse, it takes 30 minutes before it can even be expected to be working and can break down just from touching make-up. (See? We told you that this option is simply not worth purchasing…)
Now you can understand why someone would put “sunscreen” on themselves or their loved ones and still experience painful sunburns. So if you happen to read the ingredients of that next bottle of sunscreen and it says anything other than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredients, it’s better to put it back on the shelf. Now, it’s not all roses and...sunshine with this type of sunscreen. Lots of people don’t like the thick greasy feeling of the lotion and like the white residue look even less. But fun in the sun should be done with safety in mind and not how you’d look best in your beach social media selfie opportunities. However, if it is that important then do your homework as there are a few brands with zinc oxide that are also made to dry clear and not leave the residue.