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Why you need to wear sunscreen

New York City woman using sunscreen rooftopDid you apply your sunscreen this morning?

Sunscreen’s the one beauty product that helps prevent skin cancer and premature aging (and by this I mean all those lines, wrinkles, and spots that you otherwise wouldn’t get until you’re 70 if you stayed indoors.) New Yorkers have lots of reasons for not wearing it—laziness, for one. Or not finding one that’s right for your skin. There are even some health concerns over ingredients used in the formulations, which could give you the idea to give up sunscreen all together. But don’t. Like other things we do for our health, namely eating well and working out—or even for vanity—you have to exert a bit of effort to get it right. Unless you’re reading this article, and I’ve done the work for you with this quick primer on some reasons you still need to use a sunscreen and which ones I’m wearing.

Seven unsunny facts you should know about sunscreen:

1. No sunscreen covers the entire spectrum of ultra violet (UV) rays—and almost no American uses enough of it or applies it correctly. (Plus, UVA travels through glass.)

2. You have to re-apply sunscreen every 90 minutes. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing an SPF 15 or an SPF 70. Chemical sunscreen ingredients that protect skin from UV rays breakdown on exposure to, well, UV rays. Mineral sunscreens like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are sturdier and more stable but the recommended use is the same.

3. There is virtually no difference in the protection offered by a sunscreen that claims to have an SPF 30 or an SPF 70.

4. The more cosmetically elegant sunscreens, the ones that feel like a high-end moisturizer or makeup, are chemical sunscreens. An exception: Z-Cote, a microfine zinc, which is almost transparent on skin compared to than the ghastly white lifeguard stuff.

5. Sunscreens that start working as soon as you apply them are zinc oxide and titanium oxide. These minerals reflect or block UV light. Chemical sunscreens take about 20 minutes to start the UV-ray protection process, which happens in the skin.

6. Oily or breakout-prone skin should use mineral-based sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

7. Sunscreens are anti-aging. They help protect against discoloration, free-radical damage, lines, wrinkles, and the breakdown of proteins collagen and elastin that give skin its firmness and snap-back, and the mutation cells and DNA.

The sunscreens I’m using right now:

In my moisturizer

Josie Maran makes Melisse's new favorite facial sunscreen, moisturizer, and mattifier (aka shine absorber)

La Roche-Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizing Cream with Sunscreen SPF 15, $29.50
Why: The big-name sunscreen ingredient in it, Mexoryl (official ingredient name is Ecamsule), protects against a spectrum of UVA light that nothing else catches. This is why it was smuggled back from France before it was legal in the U.S. I also have Anthelios 40 ($32), a straight-up sunscreen cream, which has an additional 5 percent titanium dioxide in it. Both creams feel like moisturizers and don’t drip when I workout. I probably look a bit dewy but not shiny when I wear them. And I wear them constantly.

Josie Maran Daily Sun Protection Argan Oil Infused SPF 40+, $32
Why: It’s a new product that’s quickly claimed prime sink-side real estate. The natural-leaning formulation has skin-care ingredients in it like nourishing argan and pomegranate oil. It absorbs in a second, minimizes shine (thanks to the zinc), and gives my skin an evenness like a tinted moisturizer or primer. I can see myself going through several bottles of it this summer.

Straight-up sunscreens

Sonya Dakar 365 SPF 30, $39
Why: It smells like a skin-care product, thanks to lavender extract, and it feels like one, too. I used to wear it every day (under makeup or without makeup) until I started on a quest to find one with cleaner ingredients.

Goddess Garden Lavender Mint Sunscreen SPF 20, $14.99
Why: It’s a natural knock-off of the Dakar sunscreen, but with 70 percent organic ingredients (and 70 percent more time rubbing it into the skin). You’ll recognize almost every ingredient on the label, a great sign.

Pratima Neem Vetiver Sunscreen

Winner of Melisse's Clean Ingredient award: Pratima Neem Vetiver Sunscreen for the body

Pratima Neem Vetiver Body Suncreen SPF 30, $26
Why: It’s surprisingly awesome. I didn’t expect to become a fan of the NYC Ayurvedic doctor’s sunscreen (her skin-care products have never won me over). But I don’t mind slathering this chemical-free one loaded with familiar natural ingredients on my arms and legs one single bit.

SkinCeuticals Physical UV Defense SPF 30, $37
Why: Science-geek factor. Its microscopic minerals (Z-Cote and titanium dioxide) do a good job of keeping me perennially pale. And it also has a mattifying effect, meaning the product minimizes shine.

8 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. June 8th, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Thanks for the article. Quick question- I have sensitive acne-prone skin and use Bare minerals foundation which has a built in SPF. Do you think I need to use an additional sunscreen under the mineral foundation? If so what would you recommend?

  2. June 8th, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    check out the Environmental Working Group’s
    safe sunscreen guide! It is eye- opening!

    http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/

  3. Well+Good
    June 8th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I think of mineral makeup as a sunscreen bonus. Some have up to SPF 30, which is fantastic, and I love that I can easily reapply it throughout the day at work. That said, you still need an additional sunscreen if you’ll be outdoors. Why not try the Josie Maran sunscreen or Pratima’s sunscreen for the face? We didn’t cover it here, but it’s also zinc-based. I love zinc for acne because it’s an anti-inflammatory and good for calming red, irritated skin. Hope that helps! Let us know.

  4. Well+Good
    June 8th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I have read the EWG report forward and back. Yay for Badger, which scored really well. As for the rest that did, they’re near impossible to find. That said, the EWG report makes it perfectly plain why no one should use Coppertone or Banana Boat products, and why we should be suspicious of Neutrogena’s new line of sunscreens that tout SPF 55 and higher. It’s shady marketing when sunscreens over-promise what they can actually deliver. Pun intended.

  5. Well+Good
    June 8th, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    A reader named Leslie just wrote me and asked me about Neutrogena and what drug-store brands I like. La Roche-Posay is my drugstore brand: Anthelios 40 that I mentioned got the thumbs up from EWG, even though it’s a chemical sunscreen. Badger or Jason make some cheapy ones (under $15) that also scored really well on the EWG report, and they’re sold at health-food stores or Whole Foods:
    http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/best-beach-sport-sunscreens/

  6. June 9th, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    I wear tinted moisturizer with spf 30, and until I read your piece, I was quite contented. Plus, I have olive skin, and believe(rightly or wrongly) there is a protective aspect in my skin tone–I’ve never burned in my life. What do think?

  7. Well+Good
    June 10th, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Sunscreens offer temporary (and incomplete) protection against UV rays. You have to reapply them every 90 minutes, and most women aren’t using their moisturizer that often! That said, you could touch up with a mineral makeup with an SPF 30 throughout the day.

    To your second point about not burning: Only UVB rays cause burning. The longer UVA rays penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin. Like a dagger to the heart of your dermis, where they damage your skin’s building blocks and proteins. You may not be burning, but you and the rest of us are undoubtedly getting sun damage. Why? There are swiss-cheese like holes in broad-spectrum sunscreens. UVA rays in particular aren’t blocked completely.

  8. August 15th, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    [...] 3. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen SPF 50 ($23.95) I find this to be the most effective sunscreen. Generally I use an SPF 50 on my face, and SPF 30 on my body. It’s an anti-aging product that makes the most sense. [...]

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