Sunscreen 101: Everything You Need to Know

mom puts sunscreen on young girl's face

It seems like there are an endless amount of choices to make when it comes to sunscreen these days. Not only is the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) something to consider, but also if it is a chemical or mineral based lotion. Lotion, spray, stick, or powder. The combinations can be exhausting to sort through! We’ve got your guide on the benefits and drawbacks to the different types of sunscreens.

Mineral vs Chemical

Mineral sunscreen took the market by storm just a few years ago. It is often known as barrier sunscreen because of being chalky white when applied. That chalky white layer is created by zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and makes a physical barrier on the skin preventing UV rays from getting into the skin and burning it.

Chemical sunscreens let the UV rays in and create a chemical reaction that converts the UV light into heat and then the heat is released from the skin. The chemicals in these types of sunscreens are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.

While there is no official “safe” sunscreen, the FDA has noted that oxybenzone is absorbed into the bloodstream at a much higher rate and the toxicity of those levels has yet to be studied.

SPF: Sun Proof Factor

Per the FDA’s website: “SPF is a measure of how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin (i.e., in the presence of sunscreen) relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin. As the SPF value increases, sunburn protection increases.” On average, sunscreen should be reapplied every half hour, no matter what SPF it is. And more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.

In addition, SPF only considers UVB rays, or the ultra violet rays that cause a sunburn. Only broad spectrum sunscreen blocks both UVB and UVA rays. While UVA rays don’t burn the skin, they are the rays that cause wrinkles and physical damage to the skin.

Lotion, Spray, Stick, Powder

The medium in which you apply your sunscreen is as important as the SPF. In general, lotions are the most effective way to apply sunscreen because of its visibility and consistency. Spray sunscreens are thought to be about half as effective as lotions. Powder sunscreens are often not water or sweat proof, causing it to not stay when you may need it most. Lastly, sticks are effective, but require a lot of management to ensure that they are applied everywhere they are needed.

While all of the information may seem overwhelming, the bottom line is that wearing sunscreen, in any form, is vital for healthy skin and preventing skin cancer.