Sunscreen Choices: What You Need to Know
What are the two types of sunscreen?
- Traditionally, most sunscreens were chemical sunscreens, also called organic sunscreens. They use chemicals (like salicylates and benzophenones) which absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation and convert it to a small amount of heat.
- The other type of sunscreen is physical sunscreen, often called inorganic sunscreen or “mineral sunscreen”. They include particles of inorganic material (like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) which form a barrier between the skin and the sun, reflecting some of the rays and absorbing others. These sunscreens are typically less irritating to skin, but they can be more difficult to apply evenly. They are quickly becoming more available and more affordable.
Which type of sunscreen is better?
- Both types of sunscreen are known to protect you from sunburn, skin damage, and skin cancer. No matter your preference, both types of sunscreen are better than going without.
- Although there is no reason to suspect that chemical sunscreens are a concern, scientists and governments are currently assessing how easily those chemicals are absorbed into our bodies, and whether that brings any risk. Until this data is available, most experts are not prepared to recommend one type over the other.
What is benzene, and do I need to worry about it?
- Benzene is a chemical that is known to cause cancer. Recently a lab in the United States announced that they had found concerning levels of benzene in 78 widely available types of sunscreen. The benzene was not added to the sunscreen on purpose; it seems to be related to the manufacturing or dispensing process. More research is ongoing, but in the meantime, here is the list of sunscreens where benzene was detected (see Tables 2 and 3). https://www.valisure.com/wp-content/uploads/Valisure-Citizen-Petition-on-Benzene-in-Sunscreen-and-After-sun-Care-Products-v9.7.pdf
What is the right Sun Protection Factor (SPF) to use?
- Most experts recommend an SPF of at least 30; go higher if your skin burns easily or you will be exposed for a longer period of time.
How can I maximize the performance of my sunscreen?
- Be sure to choose a full spectrum sunscreen that will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Put on the sunscreen 15 minutes before you head into the sun. This gives time for the water in the lotion to evaporate, creating a more stable and protective film on your skin.
- Look for an expiration date, and do not use expired sunscreen. Although it will not hurt you, it may not be effective.
- If you are using sunscreen at the same time as insect repellent, the sunscreen goes on first.
- Be generous; it takes about 7 teaspoons to cover an adult.
- Most experts recommend reapplying after swimming, or at least every 2 hours to ensure consistent coverage.
Even if you do not usually burn, wearing sunscreen will protect you from skin cancers, skin damage, and premature aging. Stay tuned as more research is released, but in the meantime just pick the sunscreen that you are most comfortable with and use it regularly!
“Confused about Sunscreen? Get the Facts.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 May 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/best-sunscreen/art-20045110
“Avobenzone: What Do You Need to Know About Avobenzone Before You Use It?” The Dermatology Review, 7 June 2021, https://thedermreview.com/avobenzone/
Canada, Health. “Government of Canada.” Canada.ca, / Gouvernement Du Canada, 7 Nov. 2017, www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/sun-safety/sunscreens.html
Koenig, Debbie. “Benzene Found in Popular Sunscreens: What to Know.” WebMD, WebMD, 11 June 2021, www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/news/20210611/benzene-found-in-popular-sunscreens-what-to-know#:~:text=%20Highlights%3A%20%201%20The%20chemical%20benzene%2C%20is,likely%20outweighs%20the%20risks%20from%20benzene.%20More%20
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