Choosing The Right Sunscreen
Using a sunscreen all year round is hands down one of the best, but least followed, skincare tips.
UV rays from sunlight cause ageing and skin cancer and are present all year round, even on cloudy days. That’s why you need to protect your skin from DNA damage with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, applied every single day.
Sounds easy, right?!
Unfortunately, not all sunscreens are created equal and there are literally hundreds of them available to choose from. So, where do you start and how do you make sure you choose the right one for you?
It all starts with understanding that there are essentially two different types of sunscreen.
SUNSCREENS: PHYSICAL OR CHEMICAL?
Did you even know there was a difference? I certainly didn’t for many years. When you’re choosing the right one for you, how can you tell which is better for sensitive skin or for spot-prone skin? Or for body or face?
Let’s talk about the main differences, so that you can make an informed choice.
Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. They work by sitting as a physical barrier (hence the name) on top of your skin, to deflect damaging UV rays away from the skin.
Physical sunscreens pros
- They are naturally broad spectrum, offering both UVA and UVB protection via direct deflection of the rays away from your skin.
- They protect you from the sun as soon as they’re applied, so you’re ready to go!
- They are very good for sensitive skin as they’re less likely to cause a reaction or irritation. In fact, they can have an anti-inflammatory effect, which eliminates the risk of breakouts too.
- They deflect the heat away from the skin. This makes them a much better option for rosacea and redness-prone skin; if you suffer from this you will know that your skin is made worse by the heat
- They are better for acne and spot-prone skin as they are less likely to clog your pores
- They last longer when in direct UV light and providing you don’t rub them off/sweat/get your skin wet, a single application can last all day
Physical sunscreen cons
- They can rub off, be rinsed off or removed from your skin by sweat. In these circumstances they would need to be reapplied
- Depending on the brand, they can sometimes leave a whiteish film on the skin, making it difficult for those with darker skin types to blend them in so that they can’t be seen
- They can require more effort to be rubbed in, as they tend to be thicker in consistency
- If they are not applied to cover the skin in its entirety, UV light can penetrate through the gaps between the sunscreen molecules and cause sunburn.
Chemical sunscreens contain man-made carbon-based compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone. When rubbed into the skin, these compounds create a chemical reaction which work to change UV rays into heat, before releasing the heat from your skin.
Chemical sunscreen pros
- You need to apply less product to protect your skin, as there is no risk of burning any small areas of exposed skin, unlike physical sunscreen
- They tend to be thinner and spreads more easily on the skin
- They tend to be much cheaper to buy than physical sunscreens
Chemical sunscreen cons
- They have the potential to cause an increase in any existing brown spots and skin discolouration you have, due to the fact that they create a higher internal skin temperature
- They require some time out of direct sunlight after application, before they are effective
- There is an increased chance of irritation and stinging, due to the multiple ingredients
required in order to achieve broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection (the higher the SPF, the higher the risk of irritation for sensitive skin)
- You need to reapply them much more frequently, as the protection they give you starts to be broken down when you are in direct UV light
- If you suffer from redness or rosacea-prone skin, they can make your flushing worse, as they change UV rays into heat
- The chemical ingredients oxybenzone and oxtinoxate have been banned in some countries, as they carry a risk of coral reef degradation when worn while swimming in the ocean
- They often contain chemicals that are known to carry a degree of toxicity
So, which sunscreen option is best for you?
I currently wear a physical sunscreen (with a lovely tint, plus added vitamins C and E for moisture) all year round on my face, neck, décolletage and backs of my hands. When I’m on holiday I use a cheaper chemical sunscreen on the rest of my body.
Overall, physical sunscreen is the way forward for me. What about you? Both chemical and physical sunscreens do a fantastic job at protecting your skin from the sun, so find one that you are happy with and that feels good on your skin, and go and enjoy the sunshine!
Dr Jenni 💋x