People are far more knowledgeable than they once were when it comes to sunscreen. Most major cosmetic companies are now offering spf products in their line to cater to the sun-savvy market. But, not all sunscreens are created equal. When it comes to sunscreen offered on today’s market, there are some excellent options. There are also some truly useless ones. Let me explain.
Sunscreen is supposed to protect our skin from two types of UV rays, namely UVA and UVB. The problem? So many sunscreens on the market today only provide adequate UVB protection. UVB rays penetrate the upper layer of the skin and cause burns and tans. UVA rays penetrate the lower layer of the skin called the dermis and are responsible for signs of premature skin aging and skin cancers. You may be slathering an spf 60 sunscreen on to skin before heading outdoors but you’re not necessarily protected.
Sunscreen Ingredients for UVA Protection
Mineral or physical sunscreens contain inert minerals as their active ingredients. The minerals that may be included in a physical sunscreen include either zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both. Physical sunscreens work by sitting on the surface of the skin and reflect UV rays away from the skin. Because of the inert minerals physical sunscreens are often preferred by people with highly sensitive or reactive skin. Physical sunscreens are also recommended to those who have had facial procedures such as chemical peels because they are unlikely to cause irritation.
Zinc Oxide covers the widest spectrum of UV rays including UVB and long and short UVA wavelengths. However, it is important that it is part of a well-formulated product. Titanium dioxide is great at protecting from burning UVB rays but only protects from a short spectrum of UVA rays.
So what should you look for in a broad spectrum physical sunscreen? First, make sure there is a high enough percentage of zinc oxide. For optimal protection look for at least 15 percent zinc oxide with at least 5 percent titanium dioxide. Also be sure the formula includes added antioxidants like vitamin c, e, or green tea to name a few. These antioxidants function to neutralize free radicals from environmental and UV aggressors and boost the efficacy of the sunscreen over all.
Physical sunscreen actives zinc oxide and titanium dioxide provide excellent UVA protection when included in a well-formulated product. If you’re not a fan of those formulas there are many chemical sunscreen ingredients that provide optimal protection just as well. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin and work by absorbing UV rays and scattering them so they don’t penetrate the skin enough to cause damage. To make sure your chemical sunscreen provides good UVA protection look for ingredients like Tinosorb, Mexoryl, and Avobenzone
Tinosorb is the name of particular group of UV absorbers namely, Tris-Biphenyl (Tinosorb A2B), Bisoctrizole (Tinosorb M), Bemotrizinol (Tinosorb S), and Octyl methoxycinnamate (Tinosorb OMC). Tinosorb M and S are the major players because of their ability to provide stable and broad-spectrum sun protection. Furthermore, Tinosorb is shown to protect from both UVA and UVB rays and short and long wavelengths; fairly impressive. Tinosorb M acts as both a physical and chemical sunscreen, protects from UVA and UVB, barely absorbs into the skin, and doesn’t degrade in sunlight. Tinosorb S offers fantastic UVA protection because it covers a large portion of the UVA spectrum. The French brand Avene carries sunscreens that contain both Tinosorb M and S. For more on Tinosorb check out my post here.
Patented by the L’Oreal corporation, Mexoryl is the commercial name for a group of UV absorbers, the two most notable being Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) and Drometrizole Trisiloxane (Mexoryl XL). Mexoryl provides excellent UVA protection (when part of a well formulated product) compared to other active ingredients on the market. Both Mexoryl SX and XL provide excellent UVA protection with XL covering a slightly broader spectrum. Brands like La Roche Posay and Ombrelle, both owned by L’Oreal, offer numerous sunscreen formulas that contain Mexoryl.
Avobenzone is one of the most commonly used ingredients included in sunscreens. Mexoryl and Zinc oxide offer fairly hefty UVA protection on their own and even more when supported by other actives and antioxidants. Avobenzone however is particularly dependent on other actives to remain UV stable in sunlight. When in a formula along with stabilizers like octocrylene, Mexoryl SX, and others.
All of the above actives provide UVA protection part of a well-formulated sunscreen. Virtually every sunscreen ingredient has both positive and potentially conflicting research behind them such as the concern with hormone disruption and sunscreen. However, the ability of sunscreen to protect skin from forms of skin cancers and various signs of premature aging is undeniable. Always do your research and make sure you’re using a product that is doing what it’s marketed to do and is right for you and your lifestyle.