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There’s More to Sunscreen than SPF! Get Sunscreen Savvy with Our Guide to Proper Protection

Posted by Jenette Serrins on
There’s More to Sunscreen than SPF!  Get Sunscreen Savvy with Our Guide to Proper Protection

We’ve all gotten pretty good about using sunscreen to avoid sunburns, premature aging, and even skin cancer. But the nitty gritty of products, ingredients, and common myths can still get confusing. Worry not! We have simplified all you need to know to stay protected and avoid easy mistakes. After all, the sun is our friend, delivering much-needed vitamin D and boosting our emotional state — if we protect our skin properly!


What SPF Should I Use?

In a recent article (July 2022), Kaiser Permanente dermatologist Sarah Adams says that many consumers still believe that SPF refers to the amount of time you can spend in the sun before needing to reapply sunscreen. This is a commonly held myth. Rather, “SPF measures how much UV radiation a sunscreen can absorb before it stops working,” says Adams. 

Her advice is to choose a product with SPF 30, which blocks 97 percent of the UVB rays that cause sunburn. Anything higher — such as 50, 70, or even 100 — is rather pointless, as it does not provide more protection. These options merely pack more chemicals, can kill our coral reefs, and hurt our oceans.

Keep in mind that nothing can block 100 percent of UVB rays and that fair-skinned people usually absorb more solar energy than darker-skin, given the same conditions otherwise. Also, remember that some UV rays can still reach your skin in the shade!


Is Zinc the Way to Go?

We strongly recommend using a zinc-based sunscreen. According to NYC dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman, mineral-based sunscreens with zinc oxide offer the best and safest protection. The Environmental Working Group, too (they rate the efficacy and safety of sunscreens annually) makes a strong case for zinc.

In general, for everyday living and for extra protection, choose a blend of zinc (10%) and titanium dioxide (4%). Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are mineral filters that are safe and not likely to cause any irritation. Being broad spectrum filters, they protect against both UV-B and UV-A radiation. They are the perfect pairing for avoiding harm to your skin and the planet. Together, they almost form a chemical barrier that will shield you from damage.

We love Image MD and Epicuren. Both offer clean, non-toxic-non-clogging formulas that don’t leave you with that “white,” pasty look. To apply them seamlessly, use a technique called “sun bursting.” It simply means pressing the product onto and into your skin until it melts.

If you’re mostly staying at home on any given day, a good product with zinc (10-20% will do the trick).

You can also protect yourself from the inside, via the foods you eat! Dr. Marie Hayag suggests opting for products packed with antioxidants — vitamins C, E, and green tea — to get “protection against free radical damage and photo-aging.” Better yet, load up on anti-oxidant-rich foods such as acai, blueberries, goji berries, kale, beetroot, and sweet potatoes to counter the oxidation of your precious cells!


What Type of Sunscreen Should I Avoid?

Sadly, we constantly read in the news about popular and beloved sunscreen brands such as Banana Boat, Neutrogena, and Aveeno being recalled due to containing toxic and harmful ingredients such as benzene, classified as a human carcinogen. Practice an abundance of caution when reading the ingredient list, and stay away from oxybenzone (which can cause endocrine disruption and organ system toxicity) octinoxate (potentially responsible for reproductive toxicity); homosalate; and nanoparticles. 


How Often Should I Apply Sunscreen?

Regardless of the SPF you opt for, apply sunscreen every two hours — and right after getting out of the pool or ocean, as water will wash the sunscreen right from your body. Waterproof sunscreen is NOT truly waterproof, according to Adams. We strongly discourage use of waterproof anything!!

Solar intensity also depends on geographic location, with greater strength occurring at lower latitudes. Some people think they are more likely to burn on overcast days, but clouds absorb solar energy. Thus, solar intensity is harsher on bright, sunny, and cloudless days.

But please still wear your sunscreen when driving and on rainy, cloudy days, and in the shade as you can still get reflective ray damage! Some UV rays “can pass through leaves and branches, hit your skin from the side and reflect off water, sand, glass and concrete,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.


What If My Daily Moisturizer Has SPF? Is It Good Enough?

Adams says that you can certainly use your favorite moisturizer with an SPF of 30 but be sure to use enough of it to get complete and thorough coverage. And “a moisturizer with SPF and good UVA filtering ingredients should provide adequate coverage on its own if applied correctly,” Marie Hayag, MD, founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics, recently said in the NY Post

But a small amount will not offer the defense you need. Also, most people are unlikely to keep applying their moisturizer or face cream throughout the day, so your best choice is to have a separate sunscreen handy. Better yet, wear a hat and protective clothing. We love Jane Iredale Amazing Base Loose Mineral Powder, an airy mineral foundation that feels like silk.


Is There a Difference Between Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen?

Both types will protect you from sunburns and damage, but there is a difference. Mineral versions contain harmless, eco-friendly, active ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. It blocks sun rays by sitting on top of your skin, reflecting them. Zinc offers the extra benefit of boosting the production of elastin and collagen fibers and reducing signs of aging such as lines and wrinkles. Chemical sunscreens absorb sun rays in your skin cells, working like a filter. 

So how can you spot the difference? Via appearance and texture! Chemical sunscreen is less thick and often transparent. While both versions offer solid protection, chemical sunscreen can threaten the environment, harming sea creatures and destroying coral reefs. Also, be sure to go for a broad-spectrum sunblock to get protection from both UVA and UVB rays. 

Our team of experts recommends getting a daily dose of zinc and titanium dioxide if you spend some time outdoors, e.g., running errands, taking a walk, or hiking. If you’re going to spend more time outside, rock your wide-brimmed hat and UPF clothing. A shirt with UPF 50 allows only 1/50th of the UV radiation to reach your skin!


Proper Application is Key! 

Apply a generous amount and do not omit areas like ear lobes, your neck, scalp, hairline, and hands. Use more than you think you need to avoid missing a spot and spread it thoroughly and evenly. Do not forget to check the expiration date of last summer’s product. Direct sunlight can deactivate sunscreen, so keep it in a cool, dry place.


What About Sunscreens for Babies and Kids?

Cover up your little ones! There is not much of an ozone layer in 2022! The FDA does not regulate sunscreen intended for babies and children. It is merely clever marketing. These products are often much pricier and are just regular options with eye-catching packaging, parent-friendly wording, and a more delicate, kid-friendly scent. Most important is choosing sun protection that is reef-safe and contains 10-20% zinc without any of the harsh chemicals. And keep infants out of the sun for the first six months!


What About Ring Lights and Digital Screens? Do They Require Extra Protection?

We’ve been working with a lot of influencers that spend hours in front of a ring light. The latter is a tool used for photo shoots and social media photography that produces a soft, direct light that will minimize shadows to make your skin appear youthfully smooth and even. The downside of ring lights are the potential for premature aging and hyperpigmentation, which we have seen in several of our clients. If you work with a ring light — and if you drive long distances — we recommend a Digital Defense Sunscreen. We sell three types at Being in LA, our spa, and our retail store, in Los Angeles. They feel a little heavier but offer sound protection.

Digital Defense also protects your skin from the HEV (High Energy Visible) blue light that’s emitted from smartphones and laptops. According to numerous studies, HEV light can penetrate the lower layers of your skin and cause premature aging and hyperpigmentation. It may also damage brain cells and your retinas. However, unlike UVA and UVB rays, HEV is not considered to cause cancer. Yet, for every study that supports this claim, you can find one that does not. We’d say the jury is still out. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?


Choose a Sunscreen That Fits Your Lifestyle

With all this said, the RIGHT sunscreen is the one that fits your lifestyle. It comes down to common sense. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, hiking, exercising or even working, you will need to fortify more than if you spend most of your day inside in an office and just run a quick errand.

If your home office is by a window, however, you will need more protection. “The windows on airplanes, trains and buses allow UVA rays to pass through. That’s why airline pilots, crew members and even frequent travelers may get more skin cancers than other people,” according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

We have partnered with Suntegrity and Jane Iredale mineral cosmetics, which offer planet-friendly, top-quality sun care products. These incredible sun protectors act as skincare, too! We use both brands daily as part of our beauty and health regimen. Sunscreen belongs in your skincare ritual year-round, regardless of the climate  or where you reside — even when you’re just stepping out to check the mail, walking the dog, or sitting by a window working on your laptop!

It comes down to this: We opt for non-toxic, reef-safe sunscreen 90 percent of the time, but sometimes we need the extra protection that may come with an ingredient that is “safe” but not ideal for our oceans and marine life. As with everything, be mindful of what you put in, and on, your body and make careful choices with maximum protection and minimal side effects.

Enjoy the sun and stay safe, beauties! :) 

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