How To Pick the Best Sunscreen

how to pick the best sunscreenIt’s that time of year. The sun is shining. The weather is warm. Who doesn’t want to be outside? But being outside more means that you need to up your sunscreen protection. And who hasn’t stood in the sunscreen aisle at the store and been completely overwhelmed with the options? How do you find the best one?

The first decision I make is based on the sunscreen ingredients. There are two kinds of sunscreen ingredients: inorganic sunscreens, or mineral filters, and organic sunscreens, or chemical filters. Don’t let the inorganic or organic labels confuse you. Mineral filters are generally considered the “natural” sunscreen, because the minerals occur in nature. Both types of sunscreen ingredients protect from UVA and UVB damage, but they do it in completely different ways. Mineral sunscreens (inorganic) work by deflecting UV rays away from the skin, essentially acting as a mini-mirror. Chemical filters (organic) work by absorbing the UV rays and neutralizing them before they can hit the living layers of the skin and cause damage.

Although both types of sunscreens are approved by the FDA, there are pros and cons to each.

Chemical filters

Chemical filters work by neutralizing UV damage in the very uppermost layers of the skin (the stratum corneum). Chemical sunscreens have had the most controversy in the last few years. Originally they were the most effective forms of protection. Now, we know that they are more likely to cause adverse reactions and allergies in reactive skin types. Although we don’t always know why sunscreens cause allergic reactions, there is some speculation that, because chemical sunscreens release small amounts of heat as they neutralize UV rays, more reactive skin types might be overstimulated by this and more likely to react.

These seem like overwhelming negatives, so why would you choose a chemical sunscreen? The simplest answer is that even with all the negatives, they are still effective at protecting the skin. They are easier to formulate with and can be used for lightweight products. They are easy to apply and do not feel as greasy. They also do not create the blue tint on deeper skin tones that mineral sunscreens can cause. If your preferences lie in formulation, you may prefer a chemical sunscreen.

Mineral sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens use the ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They are typically less likely to cause reactions because they lay on the surface of the skin instead of penetrating to the deeper layers, making them inert. Additionally, zinc oxide is a known anti-inflammatory and can soothe irritated skin.

Mineral sunscreens are reflective, and I believe they provide better protection against pigmentation. UV rays are deflected before they have a chance to cause damage.

Unfortunately, with mineral sunscreens, formulations generally turn out thicker and creamier. If you are a dry skin type, this may be fine for you. But oily and acne prone types may find it difficult to find a mineral sunscreen that is lightweight. Darker skin tones may also have complaints; mineral sunscreens are famous for leaving a blue, ashy cast. Because the minerals are white, they can be difficult to blend.

Here’s a breakdown of what skin type may prefer which kind of sunscreen ingredient:
[column]Chemical Sunscreens
Oily skin types
Acne prone skin types
Deeper skin tones
People who prefer lighter textures
[column]Mineral Sunscreen
Dry skin types
Reactive or allergic skin types
Pigmented skin tones
People who prefer natural ingredients
People who like creamier textures

After you’ve decided which ingredients are right for you, you’ll need to pick your number. SPFs go up to 100 these days, but an SPF of 30 is 97% effective when used correctly. Keep in mind that higher SPFs require a higher chemical load, as it becomes more difficult to formulate high SPFs with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Allergic or sensitive types may find it difficult to use sunscreens with high SPFs for this reason.

Which one is right for you?

Now the million dollar question: which sunscreen is right for you?

My preference is to use a strictly mineral sunscreen, but it may be difficult to find a mineral sunscreen that is only mineral. Many formulations that use a mostly mineral sunscreen may still include some chemical filters simply because it keeps the product lighter. Often I will layer my sunscreens and use a mineral powder on top to get as much protection as possible while still keeping textures light.

Ultimately, the most important step in sunscreen is the application part, so make sure to buy one that you will use. The sunscreen that protects you best is the one that is on your skin, not in the drawer. [Tweet this!]



Speak your mind! How do you pick a sunscreen? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook and tell me what you think!

Faux Glow Like A Pro

I admit it. I love being tan. I am naturally very fair complected, but something about a bronzed glow draws me in like a moth to a flame. So I understand completely when my clients tell me that they want a beach glow as well. But since I am adamantly against unsafe tanning, how do I balance my desire for that just-off-the-beach look and still take the best care of my skin?

Self tanning products are good alternatives to sun tans. My answer is the faux glow. I use self-tanners religiously. I know that everyone has been scared by a story of a horribly streaky, Oompa-Loompa-like self-tan. This is a time when proper application and good product make all the difference. So here are my favorite tips for getting the perfect self-tan at home.

  • Start with good product. My favorite products are aerosol sprays. Next on the list are mousse tans. I prefer to have a bronzer in the product; it makes it easier to see where you are applying it. Look for products with a brown tint to them. The tint is cosmetic and will wash off, but you’ll ensure an even application.
  • Get a total body exfoliation. Use a natural fiber loofah or an oil-free body scrub. Focus on thicker, drier areas like elbows and knees and scrub away. You want to reveal the freshest, healthiest skin to get the longest results.
  • Apply the product evenly. This step is not hard but it does take practice. If I’m using an aerosol spray, I start near my ankle (not the foot!) and work quickly in circular motions around the leg, moving progressively up. I do not spray my feet! For the arms, I begin at the wrist and, using the same circular motion, working around the arm and in towards my torso. For the back, I spray right over my shoulder. Pay special attention to the triceps, tops of the shoulders, sides, and the inner thighs, as they are easy to miss. I use the same application pattern if I’m using a lotion or a mousse. Make sure to wear gloves in this case. To apply to my feet, I just wipe what’s left on my hand down my foot towards my toes. Your feet will grab more color, so the application needs to be very light.
  • Dry thoroughly before getting dressed. Make sure that you wear loose-fitting clothing. Try not to sweat. Don’t wash dishes. Any droplet of water can cause streaking.
  • Using a loofah, gently wash off the cosmetic tint. I like to do my self-tanning before bed and let it develop while I sleep. The next morning, I gently buff off the bronzer, paying special attention to the knees and elbows, where sometimes the tan is darker than I’d like. You can’t make many corrections now, but exfoliation will lighten the tan if you need to.
  • Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. The tan develops in the very upper layer of the skin, so keeping this area well moisturized will extend the life of your tan.
  • Use a gradual tanning lotion to maintain your results. These lotions have a lower concentration of DHA, the tanning ingredient, so they are great at building or maintaining your color. I like to start this process about day 3 after my tan, depending on how dark it is.
  • Practice makes perfect. Post-tan, I take note of spots I miss, and I remind myself to hit them next time. A gradual tanner can help to camouflage areas that you may not have gotten just right on this application.

After years of trying to overcome my natural fair color, I have self-tanning down to a science. I have found that self-tanning gets me safe, golden results faster than I can ever accomplish with real sun, minus the risk of skin cancer.



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