When I was 20, I found out the hard way that you can get burned even on a gray, cloudy day. A friend and I had planned a day at the beach to do a little tanning. (In our defense, that was in the 1970s, when people were much less aware of sun damage than they are today. That, and we were young and foolish and more focused on our looks than on our health.) The day of our beach outing turned out to be cool and heavily overcast, but we were determined to get some color. So, we put on our bikinis anyway and lay on our towels, shivering, for several hours. We were both fair-skinned and soon discovered the error of our ways. By the next morning we were as red as lobsters! That full-body sunburn was so painful that I had to go to my summer job bra-less all that week (ah, the good old ‘70s!), wearing only the loosest dresses I could find so the least material possible would touch my roasted skin.
Four decades later my dad developed skin cancer late in life, thanks to his years in the Navy during World War II. So, I’ve become pretty obsessive about wearing SPF 30 or higher every day.
I apply a physical sunscreen from EltaMD® to my face, neck and hands every morning a few minutes after finish applying my skin care. Then I use a Colorescience® brush-on powdered mineral sunscreen every two hours to make sure I'm protected throughout the day from damaging UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) ultraviolet rays, as well as from the HEV ("blue light") emitted by screens from mobile phones and other digital devices, including TVs.
Sunscreen With Broad-Spectrum UVA/UVB Protection Is Your Best Anti-Aging ProductSkin cancer is the most common type of cancer in human beings. But Wearing sunscreen protects not only against skin cancer but also against wrinkles. People often mistake my age as being 20 years younger than my actual 65 years, and I attribute my youthful looks to a combination of luck (good genes) and faithful use of sunscreen. Using a well-formulated, safe, high SPF mineral sunscreen daily will do more to prevent wrinkles than any other beauty product.
The American Cancer Society advises using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection. Sunburn is mostly caused by UVB rays, which can damage skin cells' DNA directly and are thought to cause most skin cancers. If you have fine lines, wrinkles or hyperpigmentation (brown spots or patches), blame them on UVA rays. They also cause damage to skin cells' DNA, cause them to age prematurely and are thought to play a role in certain skin cancers.
Tip: Focus on the last letter to help you remember which ultraviolet rays cause burning vs. aging: UVA rays will Age your skin, while UVB rays will Burn your skin.
Moisturizers with SPF Don't Protect Nearly as Well as Physical SunscreensMany people look for moisturizers and makeup with SPF to avoid applying both a moisturizer and a sunscreen. But leading dermatologists say that's not a good idea.
- Moisturizers are designed to soak into the skin to restore moisture balance and, depending on the product, to deliver ingredients deeper into the skin. But the purpose of sunscreen is to form a protective shield on top of the skin. The safest and most effective sunscreens use minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that form a physical barrier against damaging UVA/UVB ultraviolet rays.
- The FDA regulates sunscreen as a drug. Since they require a certain amount of SPF in a formula to and in order to meet the agency's requirements for effectiveness, there isn't much room for other active ingredients. With a moisturizer, between using such a small amount (compared to sunscreen) and the dilution of the SPF by the moisturizer, you're effectively getting less significantly lower SPF protection than the number on the packaging.
The Dangers of Using Chemical SunscreensDermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen on your face, neck, hands and any other exposed skin all day, every day, except when you’re sleeping. They also recommend physical mineral-based sunscreens that rely on zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide for sun protection, sit on the surface of the skin and reflect UV light instead of chemical sunscreens that penetrate the skin and absorb UV light. Another advantage of physical sunscreens is that, unlike chemical sunscreens, they provide protection immediately.
In 2019, a preliminary study by the FDA found that the active ingredients (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule) in four popular chemical sunscreens were absorbed into the test subjects’ bloodstreams in higher concentrations than the agency’s threshold of toxicological concern. And the EWG (the Environmental Working Group), which publishes a highly respected annual sunscreen guide that grades products on safety, declared both oxybenzone and octinoxate to be chemical UV filters with "high toxicity concerns."
2020 Update: The FDA's Second Sunscreen Absorption Study Concludes That Even More Studies of Chemical Active Ingredients in Sunscreens Are Needed
It's Hard to Find Physical Sunscreens That Look and Feel GreatSince that time, I've tried many physical sunscreen products over the years, from drugstore brands to fancy Sephora buys, in my quest for one that:
- Provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection
- Doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin
- Doesn’t cause breakouts
- Doesn’t feel or look heavy or chalky
- Contains zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide
- Doesn’t leave that ghoulish, slightly iridescent white cast typical of high-SPF mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide.
EltaMD® UV Physical Tinted Facial SunscreenEltaMD® UV Physical Tinted Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 is water-resistant for 80 minutes, oil-free (so it doesn’t break me out) and, because it’s tinted and uses transparent zinc oxide (along with titanium dioxide), it doesn’t leave that awful purplish-white cast on my skin. After putting moisturizer on my dry skin, I let it soak in for a couple of minutes before applying the sunscreen to my face. This tinted version evens out my complexion like a sheer BB cream for a my-skin-but-better look on days when I go without makeup. It also works perfectly as a primer under my sheer foundation. In fact, I first learned about this product from a well-known makeup artist on YouTube who says it's her favorite primer!
The beautiful formulation make it feel more like skincare than a mineral sunscreen, so I actually enjoy using it every day. It costs more than a drugstore sunscreen, but after trying more than a dozen physical sunscreens that failed to meet my requirements, I’m happy to pay the price for one that does everything I need it to and also doubles (triples?) as a BB cream and a makeup primer.
I wear light-medium foundation colors. If you are Asian or African-American, you might prefer EltaMD® UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44, which has a darker, warmer tint as well as hyaluronic acid for hydration. If your skin is fair, you might want to try EltaMD® UV Replenish Broad-Spectrum SPF 44. Although the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in this untinted formula make it white when applied, some reviewers claim the whitish cast goes away after a few minutes. I have found that the best way to apply untinted mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is to apply them in two thin layers, rubbing each layer in very well.
Note: EltaMD® has many other facial sunscreen products, including two clear, untinted sunscreen formulas. I was sent a sample of UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 (untinted version) and it's quite lovely. (The company's product names can be confusing. For example, how can there be a tinted version of a "clear" sunscreen?) Unfortunately, only the three products I mentioned above are 100% physical, chemical-free facial sunscreen formulas. The active ingredients in all the others, including the two clear, untinted facial sunscreen formulas and the SPF 31 lip balm, contain chemical (octinoxate) as well as mineral (titanium dioxide) UV filters.
A Less Expensive Option for Medium Skin TonesBefore I discovered EltaMD® UV Physical Tinted Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 earlier this year, my everyday sunscreen was Australian Gold® Botanical SPF 50 Tinted Face Mineral Lotion. It's a very good sunscreen that meets most of my criteria. The finish is a bit too matte for my dry skin and the tint is a bit darker than my skin tone, so it's not ideal for year-round wear. But I still wear it sometimes in the summer to give my complexion a bit of that healthy, warm glow, especially if I'm going to the beach. And it's inexpensive enough for me to apply to the exposed skin on body as well as my face, neck and hands.
HEV (Blue Light) From Digital Devices Can Damage Skin As Much As – Or More Than – UVA and UVB CombinedHigh-energy visible (HEV) light (AKA “blue light”) is emitted by our mobile phones, computers, TVs and other digital devices. Many of us are in front of some type of digital screen for much of our day (and evening). A recent study found that HEV light can cause as much skin damage as UVA and UVB light combined (eek!). Fortunately, a few sunscreens block HEV as well as UVA/UVB light.
SPF Needs to Be Reapplied Every 90 Minutes, All Day LongSunscreen becomes ineffective within 90 minutes of being exposed to air and light, so it needs to be reapplied frequently throughout the day. But very few people actually do that unless they're sunbathing, since carrying around a bottle of sunscreen everywhere you go and reapplying it every couple of hours isn’t really practical for most of us – especially if we’re wearing makeup.
Colorescience® Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Brush-On Shield SPF 50 Makes It Easy To Keep Your Skin Protected All DayI was delighted to discover Colorescience® Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Brush-On Shield SPF 50. It’s a powdered mineral sunscreen that comes in a convenient, portable tube of powder with a built-in brush. Thanks to the company’s proprietary EnviroScreen™ Technology, this do-it-all powder protects against UVA, UVB, HEV and IR (infrared) rays and also environmental pollution! It's available in four shades to suit a range of skin tones.
How to "Prime" the Built-In Brush With Powder and Apply Colorescience® Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Brush-On Shield SPF 50The first time you open it, remove the cap, push down the sleeve that protects the bristles, remove and discard the rubber band, slide the sleeve back up over the bristles and re-cap the tube. To use the product, first hold the tube with the cap facing down and the clear end with the powder facing up. Tap the cap end of the tube forcefully against a hard surface a few times (tap it 5-10 times the first time you use it) to move some powder into the brush. Remove the cap, push down the sleeve to expose the brush and flick your finger across the bristles to make sure the powder is flowing. (If not, re-cap the tube and tap the cap a few more times.) Then, swirling the bristles across your skin in circular motions, apply the powder to your face and neck in multiple passes for at least 60 seconds. Done! Then I apply the powder to my hands and any other exposed skin.
Note: This brush-on sunscreen powder gets rave reviews on the Colorescience website. On Amazon there are quite a few critical reviews complaining about the dispensing mechanism, but I follow these directions and have never found it to be a problem.
The Delicate Skin Around Your Eyes Needs Protection, Too!Chemical sunscreens shouldn’t be used near your eyes, so for many years, sunglasses were my only sun protection for the delicate skin around my eyes. That’s why, even though I have no wrinkles on the rest of my face, I do have crow’s feet.
Fortunately, it’s fine to apply physical mineral sunscreen around your peepers. Most days, I just apply my EltaMD® UV Physical Tinted Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 around my eyes as well as the rest of my face, neck and hands. When I’m wearing makeup, however, I prefer to use Colorescience® Total Eye™ 3-in-1 Anti-Aging Renewal Therapy SPF 35. This mineral-based sunscreen and eye treatment, a favorite among beauty influencers, provides skincare benefits as well as sun protection. It reduces puffiness, hydrates, tightens, serves as a peach-toned color corrector when worn under concealer and adds a nice brow bone highlight. (One well-known Youtube beauty influencer mixes it with her concealer.)
As a bonus, Colorescience® Total Eye™ 3-in-1 is also an eye shadow primer. (After applying any eye shadow primer, I always dust my lids and brow bone with translucent powder before applying my eye shadow to minimize creasing and make blending easier.) And it can also be used at night as an eye treatment, although I don’t use it for that.
Even though it's spendy, you only need a very small amount for both eyes. And, since I only use it when I'm wearing makeup, a tube lasts me for quite a while.
Wear Sunscreen Indoors as Well as Outdoors, in Rain, Shine or SnowIt’s important to wear SPF 365 days a year, both indoors and outdoors. While UVB rays are strongest midday (noon to 2 pm) and can be blocked by glass windows, the UVA rays that cause our skin to age prematurely emit at the same strength 24/7 and penetrate glass. So, you are exposed to damaging ultraviolet rays even if you’re inside a building or car.
Helpful Articles on Protecting Your Skin Against UVA, UVB and HEV lightAmerican Cancer Society, "What Is Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation?"
Allure, "Sunscreen Tips: This Is When and Where You Should Be Wearing SPF"
CNN, "Majority of sunscreens could flunk proposed FDA standards for safety and efficacy, report to say"
Forbes, "How Sunscreen Chemicals Can Get Into Your Blood"
EWG (the Environmental Working Group), "The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreens"
Byrdie, "Ask a Dermatologist: Are Moisturizers With SPF Actually Effective?"
DERMASCOPE, "Fact or Fiction: Skin damage caused by HEV light may be as harmful as the damage caused by UVA and UVB light combined."
EltaMD and Colorescience physical sunscreens reviewed by Margaret Schindel.
Read more product reviews at ReviewThisProductReviews.com
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