This one’s been in the making for a very long time, but I really wanted to make sure I understood what I was talking about before I shared it with you. I’m talking about sun protection, for both face and body, and there is way more to it than just SPF. You can find sun protection in creams, sprays, oils, and even cosmetics these days, but not all sunscreens are created equal. I’ve spent so much time researching this topic and I’m finally ready to let you guys know what’s good (and what’s not) to help protect your body’s largest organ.
Skin cancer now affects one in five people, including my grandfather, my neighbor, and probably someone you know too. Anyone can get it, no matter how fair or deep your skin may be. That’s not to say certain people aren’t particularly susceptible, and I’ll talk more about who needs to be especially careful further on in the post. It’s painful, it’s deadly, and it looks pretty nasty too. Just take the two minutes/day and protect yourself – especially if you live in an area where the sun’s always out or it’s extra strong (Oregon and New Zealand come to mind).
Let’s start with some basic terminology, so you can identify what’s happening in your products and if they’re the right choice for you. I’m not a science teacher, so I’ll keep the explanations to a minimum, but I’ve linked all my sources below if you want to read further.
There are two types of radiation from the sun – UVA and UVB. UVA rays are less intense than UVB, but they actually penetrate the skin more deeply which leads to aging, wrinkles, and sun spots. From skincancer.org: “UVA is the dominant tanning ray, and we now know that tanning, whether outdoors or in a salon, causes cumulative damage over time. A tan results from injury to the skin’s DNA; the skin darkens in an imperfect attempt to prevent further DNA damage. These imperfections, or mutations, can lead to skin cancer.” UVB is less prevalent than UVA, but much stronger, and this is what leads to redness and sunburn as it damages the skin’s outermost layer (epidermis). Too much exposure to UVA or UVB can contribute to the growth and development of skin cancer. Ideally you’d use a product that protects against both – these are usually labeled as broad spectrum. You can also refer to the UV Index to help you make the best decisions for your daily sun protection.
So what is SPF anyway? It stands for Sun Protection Factor, which is a measurement of the sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. “Here’s how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer — about five hours.” Please remember though, applying a sunscreen does not protect you all day – you should reapply every two hours and protect yourself with a hat and sunglasses too (yes, even if you are darker skinned). Note: If you see sunscreens labeled PA+++, this is a designation most commonly used in Japan and rates the UVA protection of the product. The number of “+” plus symbols after the “PA” indicate the level of UVA protection; PA+++ is the highest level, PA+ means some UVA protection.
There are two groups of ingredients that help sun protection products do their job: physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens (also referred to as sunblock) physically block UV radiation. These used to be much more common, but they’re starting to rise again – if you’ve ever seen an old man on the beach with white stuff all over his nose, it was probably zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These days, physical sunscreens have improved and don’t just stay white all day, but they do sit on the skin – which makes for excellent protection, but it can still be difficult to get over the texture on your skin. The alternative to physical sunscreens are chemical sunscreens – the active ingredients filter and reduce UV radiation’s ability to penetrate the skin. This is my preference as they tend to absorb quickly and don’t leave any noticeable product on the skin.
Now that we know all this, how do you decide what is or isn’t a good sunscreen for your needs? A few things to look for:
- SPF30 or higher, for UVB protection (some sources say SPF15 is enough, but I disagree)
- UVA protection – the US has no designation for this, but it’s often represented on packaging as “PA” with one to three “+” signs after it (this is not a universally accepted rule, so treat it as a bonus – a product labeled Broad Spectrum is more important than the “PA” designation)
- active ingredients such as zinc oxide/titanium dioxide (physical sunscreens) or avobenzone, octisalate, etc. (chemical sunscreens)
You should be extra cautious in protecting your skin from the sun if any of the following apply to you:
- you are very fair or burn easily – even one bad burn can drastically increase your skin cancer risk (this does not mean darker skin doesn’t burn or is immune to skin cancer, it’s just a little less likely)
- you regularly use chemical exfoliants (AHA) or retinoids in your skincare routine – these chemicals, while excellent for the skin, are phototoxic which means they will react with the sun and can cause serious irritation
- you have a history of skin cancer
- someone in your family has a history of skin cancer
- you have tattoos in exposed areas – aside from all the risks that apply to everyone else, sun damage can also cause the ink to fade, aging your tattoos much faster than is normal
- you spend a lot of time outside or driving – I’m sure many of you have seen this photo of a truck driver with extensive sun damage on one half of his face
- you are a human on planet Earth
So what do I use to keep my skin safe? …a lot. Guys, I use a lot of stuff.
For body, I really like the Supergoop Antioxidant-Infused Sunscreen Mist with Broad Spectrum SPF50. It’s a bit pricey, but this chemical sunscreen goes on so easy and doesn’t leave that gross sticky feeling that most sprays do. It also has some skin-protecting oils in the formula to counteract the dryness that denatured or other types of alcohol can cause (a common ingredient in most spray formulas). I haven’t gotten burnt once since I started using this last year and I think it’s one of the best options on the market if you’re like me and insist on using a spray.
As for my face, Supergoop wins that one too with their City Sunscreen Serum, it’s Broad Spectrum SPF30 and works into the skin with minimal effort. I apply it over my moisturizer every morning to make sure my skin is perfectly protected before I apply my makeup. If you prefer a physical sunscreen, I’d recommend the Tarte Tarteguard (Broad Spectrum SPF30), but I just couldn’t get over the texture and how long it took to absorb into the skin.
These days, lots of makeup brands are sneaking Broad Spectrum SPF into their color cosmetics too, and it just so happens that my favorite foundations are all packing a little extra sun protection. I would not recommend relying on any of these products as your only source of sunscreen, the concentration is just too low to really provide the coverage you need, but it’s a great option for day-to-day or a full day outside in addition to your facial SPF.
Now for some extras that most people forget about: lips, tattoos, and how to top-up when you’ve got a full face of makeup on! If it’s never happened to you before, you’re a lucky duck, because your lips can definitely get sunburnt, damaged, and [eventually] wrinkled too – and they’re not immune to skin cancer either. One of my favorite ways to help keep my lips safe is with the Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm with SPF25. It feels so nice on the lips, and the “black tea and blackberry” flavor is fantastic. If that’s a bit steep for you for a lip balm though, check out the range of SPF30 balms from Sun Bum (it’s not listed here, but I have the Key Lime flavor).
So how do you top up on sun protection for your face when you’ve got makeup on? If you haven’t noticed, I’m in a bit of a love affair with Supergoop and they, yet again, have the solution. Their Defense Refresh Setting Mist with Broad Spectrum SPF50 is an absolute must-have in my summer handbags. It’s a mattifying setting spray that helps to control oil and add some extra sun protection on the go. I had it with me in Disney World last summer and it kept me covered [and matte] the entire trip.
Finally, as I mentioned above, protecting your tattoos is so important if you want them to last for years to come. In addition to the sunscreen mist that I use all over, I also like to have the Sun Bum Sunscreen Stick with Broad Spectrum SPF30 on hand for extra protection on any exposed ink – especially for sunny days outside and at the beach or pool.
Please remember, no one product will work for everyone – different skin types and different sensitivities are important to keep in mind. Most of the products I’m recommending here are definitely geared towards normal/combination, dehydrated, and acne prone skin and I generally prefer chemical sunscreens. I’m not trying to leave anybody out , sun protection is just as important no matter how dry or oily you may get, just know that the specific products I’m mentioning might not work for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor was this post reviewed by a doctor. Please do your own research and make educated decisions when taking care of your skin. I was not paid to write this post. I am in no way affiliated with any of the organizations cited in this post, nor with any cosmetic or skincare brands mentioned. All products were purchased by me.