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For speed readers: check out my 10-second summary below
- Some sun can be healthy, but sometimes we need sunscreen (think beach days, acne, photoaging)
- Use a zinc-based STICK, or be sure that your liquid zinc formula hasn't separated.
- Try Beautycounter for the face, Badger for kids and body.
Some sun can be healthy, but sometimes we need sunscreen (think beach days, acne, photoaging)
I wrote in detail about the truth about sun exposure in my book Eat the Yolks. While I covered the basics, like:
- The sun is NOT the enemy
- We actually NEED sun exposure to get adequate vitamin D & critical photoproducts
- RESPONSIBLE sun exposure is key – which includes AVOIDING sunscreens with potentially dangerous, misleading or ineffective ingredients and opting for sun barriers when needed instead (clothing + shade)
Yet I recently realized that I need to expand on this even further. While I strongly believe that smart sun exposure is healthy and that avoiding overexposure is key, let's be honest. Most of us want to be out in the sun for longer than we really should.
We want to be in the sun all day – and often, well beyond our skin's natural burning threshold.
And when shade and protective clothing just aren't going to happen, some topical sun protection is necessary to avoid a one-way ticket to burn city and all the damage that comes with it.
So let's pick the safest, most tried-and-true option possible.
Over the years, sun protection has been called several different things – most commonly, sunscreen and sunblock. The difference? Sunblocks contained zinc, which creates a physical barrier against both UVA and UVB. The downside to zinc-based sun protection? White, creamy mess.
Sunscreens were much more sheer, but only protected against one type of ray.
Today, no sun protection product is called “sunblock,”, because the term “sunblock” presents a liability issue: it implies a product that blocks all of the sun's rays (impossible) and that doesn't need reapplication. In reality, you should ALWAYS reapply.
Everything is called “sunscreen” now, but there are a ton of different options under that umbrella.
All sunscreens are now required to offer some protection from both UVA and UVB. This is where the term “broad-spectrum” came from – it's really an alternative to the term “sunblock” that still indicates protection against both types of rays (but not necessarily using the safest option: zinc).
But these “broad-spectrum” options might give us a false sense of security, because they make us feel like all rays are blocked, all the time. In truth, the only requirement for these products is that a certain percentage of UVA protection is offered relative to their UVB protection.
This is where we get in to “maths,” which is not my strong suit. What I do know is that the protection offered from these products is very different, and less, than what we get from physical barriers like clothing.
Another downside: most broad-spectrum, non-zinc sunscreens are based on chemicals that might contribute to mutagenic changes in the skin when exposed to UV light, and some might cause environmental harm. These are the products with ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone. More research is needed, but I'm most comfortable with the more inert, physical, visible barrier that zinc provides.
From here on out, we'll call non-zinc sunscreens chemical sunscreens, and zinc-based sunscreens physical sunscreens.
But, even with zinc-based physical sunscreen options, we need to choose wisely.
The interesting reason you should try a zinc-based STICK
The number one mistake people make when choosing safer sunscreen is that they don’t realize when the ingredients have SEPARATED.
With some sunscreen lotions, zinc – the key ingredient – can separate from the rest of the ingredients, lessening the sun protection. You're particularly at risk when your sunscreen is from the prior summer. In zinc sunscreens formulated to be sheer, we might not realize this separation has occurred!
The brands I recommend have an excellent track record. There are certainly others out there, but these are my favorites.
In general, zinc-based sunscreen STICKS are ideal. No risk of separation, and no risk of inhalation (or neighboring beachgoer anger) as with spray sunscreens. (Please stop using spray sunscreens. I don't need to breathe in a cloud of your laziness and unwillingness to rub.)
Try: Beautycounter or Badger
Here are the zinc-based physical sunscreen brands I like:
- Beautycounter Countersun for the face. The most sheer option, this has quality suspension ingredients in an antioxidant-rich base THAT NOW PROTECTS AGAINST BLUE LIGHT as well as UVA and UVB! This is a MAJOR innovation, and helps block the pro-aging damage from blue light (think the light from screens) unlike any other sunscreen.
- Beautycounter Sun Stick. Small but mighty, this is my favorite for ease of application, especially on my kids' faces. I'll use it on their bodies, too, when I don't have the more affordable Badger Balm handy.
- Badger Balm, a favorite of mine for many years, makes excellent products across the board that are also affordable. Find out more here.
- Babo Botanicals has a 20% zinc oxide concentration in their stick, and it’s great for kids and for sensitive skin. Find out more here.
Here's to safe sun exposure!
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