Sunscreen can protect you from a painful sunburn and aging wrinkles if you take care to apply and reapply when you’re out in the sun. There’s more to finding one that works best for you than simply picking up an enticing coconut scented product off the shelf. How much SPF do you need? Does a spritz of spray work as well as a dab of lotion? Are ingredients that are harmful to coral reefs also harmful to your skin? Here are things to consider to make your fun in the sun safe, guilt free, and healthy.
Lotion, spray or stick?
Favor lotions over sprays or wipes. You want even coverage. Sprays go on in streaks and we tend to spritz too lightly to get the SPF level that’s required. The problem with wipes and stick sunscreens is the same; coverage isn’t adequate. With lotion, you can slather on a generous amount of lotion easily and you’re in control of an even application.
Mineral or Chemical?
Mineral sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sit on top of the skin and physically block the sun’s rays. These physical sunscreens are best suited for those who have sensitive skin. Plus, mineral sunscreens are favored by those who prefer “natural” products that are reef-safe. Reef-safe sunscreens typically do not contain active ingredients that harm coral reefs, and the National Park Service says mineral sunscreens have not yet been found to harm corals.
Chemical sunscreens made with ingredients like oxybenzone or avobenzone or octinoxate protect skin by absorbing UV rays. Studies say oxybenzone can harm or kill corals by damaging the DNA of mature and larval coral. The result can end up with coral bleaching.
FDA Recognizes Mineral Safety
While both mineral and chemical sunscreens effectively protect the skin, only the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide ingredients found in mineral sunscreens are currently “generally recognized as safe,” according to an FDA report issued in February. The agency said more research is needed to determine if 12 other chemicals commonly used in sunscreens, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, can be officially listed as safe.
That doesn’t mean the rest of the ingredients are dangerous but indicates the FDA must gather more data to ensure they meet the agency’s safety standards.
Broad Spectrum and SPF
Look for SPF 30 or higher and make sure the label includes the wording “broad spectrum,” which indicates the product offers UVA coverage. SPF only measures UVB coverage. You want sunscreen that will shield you from the UVA rays that age skin prematurely and the UVB rays that burn. Both kinds of ray can cause skin cancer.
If your plans include strenuous outdoor activity for an extended period, an SPF50 or higher will keep you protected. Choose a water resistant formula that will stay on no matter whether you’re swimming or sweating.
Supplements Over Tan-accelerants
Taking 25g of beta-caretone each day can improve your natural defense against UV rays by boosting production of your skin’s protective dark pigment. Even though the supplement will improve your ability to tan, you will still need sunscreen.
Make sure the sunscreen you buy is not past its expiration date, and keep in mind that date means the sunscreen is still effective only if the product is stored in a cool, dry place.