Shedding Light on Sunscreen
By Rhonda Klein, MD, FAAD
If you were born in the 70s or 80s, you probably consider yourself clued up on sun care and how to stay safe. Most of this generation, and those that follow it, know the dangers of tanning beds, we wear sunglasses year-round (okay, maybe sometimes it’s to hide at school drop off) and we’d never think of letting our kids on the beach without a thick layer of SPF…and a hat that we wrestle back on at least every eight minutes. All of that knowledge aside, there is still a lot of confusion about sunscreen – which ingredients should we be choosing, and which chemicals are a no-no? Everybody seems to have an opinion and there’s no hiding from the consequences of choosing incorrectly; sun damage and premature aging on the “good end” and skin cancer on the very scary end.
Dr. Rhonda Klein shares her clinical expertise and very real-life practicality (she has 4 kids!) to help demystify the myths from the facts.
What SPF? What about scary ingredients?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a minimum of SPF 30 is suggested, look for broad spectrum protection that specifies UVA and UVB rays and preferably choose a water-resistant formula. But what about those nasty chemicals? Oxybenzone, avobenzone, nanoparticles – they sound scary and fail the “if you can’t pronounce it, it’s bad” rule of thought, but the reality is I put them on my kids. It would take decades of literally eating these products to be concerned about the purely theoretical risks of endocrine disruption or cancer. Unless you have sensitive skin or are applying on an infant (where we recommend sticking to plain zinc like we use on a baby's bottom), these ingredients have never been proven to be carcinogenic or dangerous.
So if SPF 30 is enough, why are there so many higher numbers available on the shelf?
A recent study has shown that sunscreens with a rating of SPF 100 may be more effective than ones rated SPF 50...even though the Food and Drug Administration says that any SPF above 50 offers no additional protection. The findings of the 199-participant study were published recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and the really great thing about this study is it was designed to be “real world.” The participants skied in Vail, CO and were responsible for applying half their faces in SPF 50 and the other half in SPF 100. More than 55 percent of the subjects were burned more on the SPF 50 side than on the SPF 100 side. Sunburn severity was also worse on the SPF 50 side.
This is probably pretty shocking to most people, who assume that a swipe of SPF 50 in the morning means total coverage with no chance of sunburn - and this just isn’t the case. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime, so buy high, apply more than you think and keep reapplying. Also, it’s never too late to start daily sun protection; we get more than 50% of our cumulative sun exposure after the age of 40!
Below I’ve outlined some of my favorites, along with tips about the battle between sticks, sprays and lotions. Have a happy and safe summer!
Sunscreens for kids & sensitive skin:
2. Blue Lizard
4. Neutrogena Pure & Free
6. ThinkBaby & ThinkSport
**For sensitive skin, stick with physical blockers (zinc & titanium)**
Sunscreens for everyday that are more cosmetically pleasing but also very protective:
1. EltaMD UV Clear
2. Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral Broad Spectrum SPF 36
3. Skinceuticals Physical Matte UV Defense
4. MD Solar Sciences Daily Anti-Aging Moisturizer
And for a quick touch-up during the day, try Colorescience Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 50
Sunscreens with max protection:
1. Isdin Eryfotona Actinica
2. Bioderma Photoderm Max SPF50+
3. TIZO2 and TIZO3
4. ThinkBaby & ThinkSport
5. Shiseido Wet Force
1. Kiehl's Facial Fuel UV Guard SPF 50+
2. Neutrogena Men Triple Protect Face Lotion with SPF 20
3. L'Oreal Men's Expert Comfort Max After-Shave Balm with SPF
4. Nivea Men Skin Essentials Protective Lotion
5. Clinique for Men Broad Spectrum SPF 21 Moisturizer
Favorite Liquid Sprays:
1. Bioderma Photoderm Max SPF50+ (comes as a 400ml bottle which is amazing for large families) & Bioderma Photoderm Kid SPF50+
2. Kinesys High Performance Sunscreen
3. Kiss My Face Sunspray Lotion SPF 30
4. Elta MD UV Spray
5. Babyganics Sunscreen Spray
**Please avoid aerosolized sprays which not only contain a large % of alcohol which can be irritating but are also bad for the environment & require approximately 7 layers to yield the same protection as a cream/lotion/liquid**
Favorite Sunscreen Sticks:
1. Kinesys Sun Protection Stick
2. Neutrogena Pure & Free
3. Bioderma Photoderm Max Large Stick
4. Babo Botanicals Super Shield
**Sunscreen sticks are great for reapplication on the face, especially near the eyes. For or all of us bargain shoppers, the Trader Joe's zinc sunscreen stick is a steal at $5.99; while not as cosmetically pleasing (it leaves a white residue), it is a great addition to camp bags for the little ones to use on their faces**