By Erin Williams, Erin's Faces
Sunscreen is such an important topic, and yet there are still so many questions. It is our first and BEST defense against skin cancer and premature skin aging, but what does a good sunscreen need to include? How often should we we reapply? Which sunscreens are made from "clean" ingredients? Here, all your questions are (hopefully!) answered, in order to to enjoy the sun and stay safe.
Why do I need to wear sunscreen?
Research has shown that 90% of visible signs of aging (wrinkles, fine lines, brown spots, sagging skin) are from sun damage. 90%! Sunscreen is the number one anti-aging thing you can do for your skin, it protects against skin cancer and free radicals, and it literally keeps your skin from burning.
What's all this talk of physical and chemical sunscreens and why should I care?
This is important folks! Check out EWG (Environmental Working Group) for in depth info, but here's the breakdown on how to tell the difference:
Most chemical suncreens (with the exception of Mexoryl SX) have been shown to either affect reproductive systems/endocrine systems/cause skin allergies. It's pretty bad news bears, and since there are alternatives I say go with the physical.
Physical SPFs make the sunlight "bounce" off, while chemical SPFs absorb it.
What's the difference between SPF 15/30/50?
SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB radition, SPF 30 blocks nearly 97 percent. SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. So, generally it's recommended to do a 30+ and call it a day. SPF 15 doesn't block quite as much, but 50 doesn't block much more.
Is it really waterproof?
Nope, they're not allowed to say that anymore. As of June 2012 sunscreens can't be marketed as "waterproof" or "sweatproof" basically because they're not. They can be marked as "water resistant" with the recommendation that they be reapplied after 40 or 80 minutes (it'll be marked on your bottle).
How often do I have to reapply for real?
Okay, so to me it depends on if you're going to be in direct sun all day or not. If you are - like you're going to the beach, zoo, park, BBQ, etc - you need to reapply every 2 hours, and if you're swimming or sweating a lot you need to reapply every 40-80 minutes. So basically we all need to buy stock in SPFs.
How often do I need to reapply if I'm not at the beach?
"On a normal day, which generally means to and from work and a short walk at lunch, an effective amount of sunscreen applied in the morning is still going strong when you're done with work and on your way home" (Paula Begoun).
UVA, UVB, or both?
Both. UVB rays are what causes your skin to burn so we want to block those for sure. UVA rays are just as damaging, you just can't see the damage with your eyes, so you want to block those too. Using a sunscreen that is marked Broad Spectrum ensures that both UVA and UVB rays are blocked.
What's best for babies under 6 months?
The FDA wants you to keep them out of the sun, but Zinc Oxide is the only approved active ingredient for little ones under the age of 6 months, with permission from a pediatrician.
How do I know what to buy?!
You can check the Environmental Working Group or scan a barcode on the new Think Dirty App - both tell you how "green" your product is. (I'm super excited because Erin's Faces is going to be added to the Think Dirty database in the next week or so, and both of my sunscreens are "in the green"!)
Here are some Body SPF ratings from Think Dirty (and I chose the Natural/Baby SPFs from big brands since those are generally the most gentle - or so we think):
And some Face SPF ratings:
I've heard that some sunscreens can cause cancer - what's the story?
The jury's still out on this but the concerns are with chemical sunscreens. Some folks say it's fine and others say it's no bueno. I stick to physical SPFs since it takes the guesswork out.
Do I have to wait before I can go outside?
With chemical sunscreens, yes; with physical sunscreens, no.
Sprays and powders seem easier - can I just do those?
Short answer - they're not the best choice. You can inhale nano and micronized zinc and titanium in powdered sunscreens and makeup (side note - this is why I have liquid mineral foundations in my makeup line and not loose powder ones) and in the spray of sunscreen, and that's not good for your body. We also tend to not apply enough SPF when we use sprays and powders.
Will I get enough Vitamin D if I wear SPF?
There are mixed studies on this - some say yes, some say no. But you probably won't get skin cancer either so that's a bonus. Check with your doc if you're concerned about Vitamin D deficiency - you can always boost your meal choices with items high in Vitamin D or take supplements.
How much should I wear on my face?
1/4-1/2 a teaspoon is what most dermatologists would like for you to be doing. It looks like a nickel sized amount on your hand. It's a lot.
What about on my body?
Roughly 1 oz (the size of a shot glass) per two hours. Or per 40-80 minutes if you're swimming. Yep. A 3 oz bottle should last you possibly one day if you're a person at the beach. It's annoying, I'm with you, but so are the things that can happen if you don't do it.
What happens if I don't apply enough?
Your SPF 30 can quickly become an SPF 15 if you apply half of the recommended amount..
Can I use my sunscreen from last summer?
Check the expiration date, but probably not - most have a shelf life of one year. And per the recommended usage, if you have some left it probably also means you aren't using enough.
Okay, I put a lot on and now it's not rubbing in and I look like a ghost - help!
There are two ways you can go with this:
1 - Go in layers. Apply one layer, make sure it's rubbed in, and then go for layer two.
2 - Give it two minutes. Brush your teeth and then rub it in - most of the white stuff will go away and you'll be left with a few streaks. Rub those in while the skin is still moist (if you wait too long they'll dry and they're impossible to blend).
What is a facial sunscreen that won't break me out/antagonize sensitive skin?
Sorry for the commercial but my Peptide SPF 30 is awesome for this - it won't break you out, it's 86% organic, and contains tons of humectants to hydrate and soothe sensitive skin. And Zinc is used in diaper rash ointment to soothe little babies' booties - it's very gentle.
Should it be fragrance-free?
In my opinion, yes - especially on your face. That's not a hard and fast rule, but fragrance is super irritating (synthetic fragrance) and can break you out, cause rashes, etc.
Do I have to put sunscreen on if I'm going out for dinner?
If there is still a sun in the sky, to any degree, I'd say yes (if you've been at home all day and haven't put any on yet). Especially since we're going into summer and the sun sets later in the evening.
Is facial sunscreen a substitute for a moisturizer? What's my skincare regime order?
For oily to normal skin, sunscreen can sub for moisturizer - especially in the summer. If you did need a moisturizer, it would go under your SPF. SPF is the last skincare step before makeup.
Speaking of that, I have SPF in my BB Cream/Moisturizer/Tinted Moisturizer - isn't that enough?
If you're going to wear 1/4-1/2 tsp of it, it is (you're not). I wear a LOT of foundation, which has a physical sunscreen in it, but I use about a pea sized amount - nothing close to what I should be applying SPF-wise. So I view that foundation SPF as a bonus.
So I have to do an extra SPF step?
YES. Unless it's in your moisturizer, and you use the proper amount.
What does it mean when it says Reef-Safe?
Long story short, Oxybenzone, Butylparaben, Octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor were shown in studies to cause complete coral bleaching, which causes it to die. National Geographic had this article talking about it, and every year about 5,000 TONS of sunscreen washes off of swimmers in coral reef environments. So, look for Reef Safe options.
Does that matter if I'm not swimming in the ocean?
Short answer - yes. Our water (after you shower from your day at the non-beach pool/backyard/etc.) goes down the drain and into the world - it affects marine life whether you go to see them in person or not.
If I missed any questions just put them in the comments below!
Erin Williams is a celebrity makeup artist in New York City and owner of Eco-Friendly Makeup & Skincare line, Erin’s Faces. Her whole purpose in doing makeup, whether it’s for NYC’s Fashion Week, editorial shoots, red carpets, or giving a lesson at someone’s house, is to empower and educate women. On her blog, Erin’s Faces – Magic Dust & Lipgloss, Erin writes everything from beauty ingredient overviews and video how-to’s, to drugstore swaps. She lives in NYC with her husband and their Cavachon, Jasper.