All sunscreens are not created equal

Have you ever wandered through the seemingly endless selections in the sunscreen isle, lost in the maze of skin protecting bottles? SPF 15 to 110, tinted, not tinted, and now some of these bottles are toxic to the coral reef? What to do?


I'm about to break down what these things mean, what's best for you, and how to choose your next sun cancelling day protection.


It's pretty established fact that the sun is the #1 outside-your-body force that causes your skin to show aging. And its well established that we should protect our skin from the sun with either clothing or sunscreen.


There are three types of rays that come from the sun, UVA, UVB, and UVC. Let's start backwards.


~UVC is what the Earth's ozone protects us from. It is the rays that kill pretty much all known life immediately. That's why we like the ozone. That's why we need the ozone. To literally exist.


~UVB is what's referred to as the "burning" rays, because this ray is what causes your skin to burn.


~UVA is what "ages" our skin. These rays break down the DNA in our body, including our skin, which is what tanning is.


So now we know that we need protection from both UVA & UVB rays. (UVC should be covered by the ozone, and if it isn't there's not really a cream to help you, and you have bigger problems anyway.) This type of sunscreen is called "broad spectrum". This is the only type of sunscreen you should buy. Because anything else is wasting your money. Broad spectrum should be listed on the bottle.


Next up, SPF levels. SPF levels means the level of protection you get from the sunscreen. They range from 0-approximately 110. Most people think this is a percentage. It is~ish. For example, SPF 30 does not mean that it blocks 30% of the sun's rays, just like SPF 110 does not block 110% of the sun's rays. It does mean that, if the sunscreen stayed on your skin in the exact same condition, it would take the UVB rays 30 times longer to burn you than if you were wearing nothing at all.


HOWEVER, nothing stays on your skin in the exact same way it went on for hours. It's impossible. Your skin is constantly doing things, like sweating and producing oil and shedding cells. Let alone if you're actually living your life touching things, like clothes, or car seats, or oceans. So does that mean a SPF 110 will give 110 times longer to be in the sun? Theoretically, but practically? No. Because you're alive. And you keep insisting on breathing and touching things.


IN ADDITION, how long will it take you to burn? Depends on lots of things. What's your altitude like today? How much atmosphere do you have over you? Is it an ozone warning day? These are not really calculations I take into account every morning. So SPF is a really arbitrary thing to use. But use it we do.


For simplification, on a regular day, like I'm only going to be out in the sun when walking to my car, driving, walking into the store, ect, you need a SPF 15. For I'm going to frolic on the beach today or try and climb Mount Pinatubo, you need a SPF 30-50. There is no need for anything more. Because the amount of protection you get from anything over a 50 compared to a 50 is so extremely minimal, it does not make a difference. So don't waste your money there either.


Now, a big, huge, major difference is whether you get a physical barrier or a chemical barrier. A physical barrier is either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and it creates a wall between you and the sun's rays; they literally bounce right off your skin. A chemical barrier is any other active ingredient that you can't say. Those are absorbed into your skin and the rays are absorbed by the chemicals. How do you know which one you have? Take a look at the active ingredients. Sunscreen is considered a drug by the FDA. So every product sold as a sunscreen has to have a list of its active ingredients listed on it. If you see active ingredients of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, you have a physical barrier. If you see ANYTHING else, it is a chemical barrier. What if you see both? Then you have a combination of the two.


There are several advantages to a physical barrier. It is ready immediately. You do not have to wait 30 minutes for it to absorb completely into your skin to be protected.


They have a much longer, much more stable shelf life. The chemicals in the chemical barriers are sensitive to heat and humidity. Soooo that hot warehouse that your sunscreen was sitting in for months before it was put on the shelf at your local store.... probably a little hot and humid. And definitely the beach you left the bottle out on while you frolicked in the ocean.... you get the point. The chemicals start to break down and the sunscreen stops working as well, or at all.


There's also quite a few reports coming out that the chemicals are reaching our blood and they may not be all that good for us. Oh, and a few of them kill our ocean reefs, which is not cool. Those have been outlawed in a lot of countries.


There are a couple downsides to physical barriers. They are thicker, because you're putting powdered rocks on yourself. Many companies are working with this and many have made much smoother formulations. I recommend asking for samples to see what ones work for you.


They are also quite chalky. Because of the rock thing again. But again, entrepreneurship at its finest has seen to create tinted sunscreen that has been amazing.


And lastly, they are more expensive. Why? I don't really know. Real rocks are apparently more expensive than chemicals whipped up in a lab.


So finally, what sunscreen is best for you? A physical barrier that is between a SPF 15-30.


Yes, I did make you read all that just for one sentence.

. And now you know.

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