When it comes to sunscreens, it can get pretty dicey out there. Here are some questions I get a lot as a cosmetic chemist.
Do I need to wear sunscreen everyday?
Every day that you’re outside! Even on a cloudy day, the sun’s UV rays can reach your skin and cause damage.
When should I apply sunscreen in my routine?
Sunscreens should be the last step in your skincare routine, as it is designed to create a uniform film on top of the skin. If you apply moisturizer beforehand, wait a few minutes for it to absorb into your skin before applying SPF. Makeup can go on top of SPF, but you’ll still want to reapply after two hours!
What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it corresponds to the percentage of UVB light that the specific sunscreen product will block. The higher the SPF, the more light it blocks, although no sunscreen reaches 100%, and SPF 60 is the highest claim currently allowed by the FDA. Dermatologists recommend a minimum of SPF 30, which will block against 97% of UVB rays.
What does Broad Spectrum mean?
A Broad Spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays of light. UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and immediate redness, while UVA rays are associated with long term skin effects like skin cancer and aging. If a sunscreen does not have a Broad Spectrum label, it will mainly protect against UVB rays.
What’s the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens?
Mineral sunscreens act by forming a physical barrier on the skin that blocks UV light. There are two approved mineral Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Both ingredients are designated GRASE (Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective) by the FDA, and these sunscreens are better for sensitive skin.
Chemical sunscreens act by absorbing UV light, and include a combination of the following Active Ingredients: Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Homosalate, and Octinoxate (although Octinoxate and Oxybenzone are banned in the state of Hawaii for damage to coral reefs). These products typically rub into the skin without leaving a white residue. However, they have come under recent scrutiny due to adverse human and environmental health impacts. The FDA has declared that more data needs to be collected before these ingredients can be designated GRASE. This does not mean chemical sunscreens are unsafe, simply that more research needs to be done.
How are sunscreens regulated in the US?
Labeling - The US FDA regulates sunscreens as over-the-counter (OTC) drug products. Currently, there are 8 approved Active Ingredients (listed above) that are regularly used, and at least one must be present for a product to be called a sunscreen. Brands producing sunscreen products must include a Drug Facts panel that includes the active ingredients and percentages, as well as predetermined Warnings and Use Instructions.
Testing - SPF testing is required to be performed on ten human volunteers, and the average SPF is taken. Additionally, stability and preservative testing are required according to FDA guidelines (these are typically performed for all skincare products, but are mandated for OTC products). Sunscreens must be produced in an FDA approved facility.
Are you going to make a sunscreen product?
I would love to eventually! As you can see above, the process for creating an SPF is much more time and capital intensive than an non-OTC skincare product, so this will be far down the road. I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, check out my favorites below!
What are your favorite mineral sunscreens?
I’ve been on the lookout for the best mineral sunscreens for a while, and the technology has definitely improved over time. Here are my favorites for face sunscreens:
Cocokind SPF 32 ($24) - Zinc Oxide 21%, best for dry skin, leaves slight white cast
Biossance SPF 30 ($30) - Zinc Oxide 14%, best for combo or sensitive skin, leaves almost no white cast
Versed SPF 35 ($22) - Zinc Oxide 15.2%, best for oily skin, slightly tinted and leaves no white cast
Sundaze SPF 30 ($30) - Zinc Oxide 18.9%, contains Vitamin C for brightening, almost no white cast
**A few reminders: sunscreen alone can’t fully protect you from the sun’s rays. Avoiding sun exposure, especially between 10 am and 2 pm, is the best way to protect yourself. Wearing protective clothing such as long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses will also reduce your risk of skin cancer and skin aging caused by sun damage.
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