We always get a lot of questions about sunscreens: What’s the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens? Are the ingredients safe or harmful? Should I get the highest SPF available? Are spray sunscreens OK? Is sunscreen waterproof? In this article, we will touch on the most common questions!
What is the difference between physical & chemical sunscreens?
Both types look pretty similar and you apply them the same way, so what’s the difference? The difference is in the ingredients how they work once applied. Physical sunscreens, usually containing zine oxide and titanium dioxide, protect your skin by reflecting the sun’s rays so that the rays cannot get to your skin. Think of it kind of like a mirror on a table: the sun’s rays come down towards the table, but the mirror reflects the sun’s rays away so that the table is protected. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, form a protective layer that absorbs the UV rays. Let’s say that aforementioned table had a table cloth on it instead of the mirror. The sun’s rays would hit the table cloth and damage it instead. SO that cloth may discolor, but the table is safe. That’s basically how chemical sunscreens work. Instead of the sun’s UV rays damaging your skin cells & DNA, they interact with the sunscreen ingredients which keeps your skin safe.
Are the ingredients safe?
There seems to have been some controversy over whether the ingredients in sunscreen are safe to use or not. A lot of the science used to prove they are harmful is faulty. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology states that “no published studies show that sunscreen is toxic to humans or hazardous to human health” (read more here: Is Sunscreen Safe? ). Please rest assured that any chemical that makes it into our consumer products goes through quite rigorous testing for FDA approval. Plus, whatever “risk” someone may have of a “harmful” result is much, much less likely than the chances of that person getting skin cancer (1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer). If you would prefer to find an organic product, that’s fine! Organic lines of sunscreen exist as well. If you are still truly fearful, then it becomes absolutely essential that you avoid UV exposure as much as possible -- wear long sleeves & pants, UPF rated clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and stay out of the sun during peak hours.
What SPF should I get?
We recommend SPF 30 or higher. SPF 30 is really all you need because the degree of protection only increases by small amounts after that point. For example, SPF 30 offers you 97% UV protection, and SPF 100 offers 99% protection. So SPF 60 would not provide you with twice the amount of protection of SPF 30, but rather only about 1% more. The more important thing is to apply enough (about a shot glass full) and to re-apply.
Are spray sunscreens good options?
Many people get spray sunscreens to try & be hands-free. Unfortunately, spray sunscreens tend to be harder to apply evenly. If you look at the bottle, most of these spray options will tell you to rub in the product after spraying. I would recommend that you do rub in the sunscreen after you spray and/or use the spray sunscreen for reapplication. If you want to be hands-free, a better option may be a sunscreen stick because you’re most likely to get an even application and more coverage. It may take longer than just a spray-and-go, but the goal is protecting your skin, right?
What about waterproof sunscreen?
Since the labeling changes a few years back, no sunscreen should say it is “waterproof”; such a thing does not exist. What you should look for is “water-resistant.” These products will include ingredients that are more resistant to being washed or sweat off, but they will come off which is why reapplication after being in water is recommended.
For More Information:
Skin Cancer Foundation: Sunscreen
American Academy of Dermatology: