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Given my lust for sunscreens today, I wince remembering that I once used baby oil as my sunning go-to. Thanks to the emergence of both wisdom and technology, sun care – and my routine – have come a long way.
While sunscreen should be a year-round product – as UVA exposure, present even on cloudy days, can lead to wrinkles, burning and skin cancer – combating summer rays is currently top of mind. Bask in the products (and information) we’re absorbing this summer below – we all know a sunburn is no day at the beach.
Be Label Conscious
Given the frequent influx of sunscreen information, we tapped into the wisdom of Dr. Ellen Gendler, Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. Her longevity in the field, and reputation for not glossing over beauty misconceptions, is invaluable when determining the best new products and usage: “Use a non-nano sunscreen with the highest percentage of Zinc Oxide you find cosmetically acceptable, because the only sunscreens that work are the ones you use.”
Mineral Vs. Chemical – Get In The Know
Chemical sunscreens became a four-letter word with the 2018 Hawaiian ban, as chemicals Oxybenzone and Octinoxate were called out for damaging coral reefs. The FDA and watchdog Environmental Working Group subsequently began publishing concerns about the endocrine-disrupting effects of these chemicals, and others such as Avobenzone (which they also found to be an inferior UVA blocker). While there’s an alarming amount of confusion (and new vernacular it seems) about sunscreen each season, the greater concern remains lack of usage – 50% of Americans claim they never wear SPF; only 15% wear it daily.
Our dermatology 411 on what to look for – and avoid – when selecting sunscreen:
- Use mineral sunscreens as they physically block and reflect UVA/UVB rays; chemical sunscreens absorb the UV rays. (UVA rays are responsible for suntan and skin aging, while UVB produces sunburns.)
- When selecting a mineral sunscreen, use Zinc Oxide (rather than Titanium Dioxide, despite often having a silkier formula) as it provides superior broad-spectrum coverage.
- Sunscreens should have a minimum of 10% Zinc Oxide to ensure effectiveness.
- SPF ratings for both mineral and chemical sunscreens reflect only UVB protection, “which is why so many people using chemical sunscreens are tan,” Dr. Gendler noted.
The one exception to Dr. Gendler’s guidelines: “If you are outdoors often, layer SPF – first with a chemical sunscreen (only use a European brand!), then apply a mineral one with Zinc Oxide.”
When selecting a European chemical sunscreen, look for brands that feature these ingredients: Tinosorb S or M; Mexoryl XL or SX; or Uvinal A. These are ingredients not found in US sunscreens (despite the US carrying the same brand name), and they provide outstanding UVA protection.
Meet Our Summer All-Stars:
Despite spending her life outdoors, Williams was not diligent about sunscreen until her 30’s. Speaking on the topic, she said, "I thought because I have darker skin, the sun would never affect me, which isn't true.” She found formulas that blended naturally were ineffective while effective brands left a white cast, so she turned to Credo Beauty (the DTC leader in clean beauty led by two industry veterans) to create her own. The brand utilizes 25% Zinc Oxide, for physical and mineral protection, and made in collaboration with The Sunscreen Company TM, experts in mineral sunscreen formulation.
Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 40 ($50) is a lightweight zinc oxide facial serum that blends sun protection with hydration. Ingredients include Coconut Fruit Extract, rich in amino acids, electrolytes and antioxidants, to help hydrate and replenish the skin; Rutin, a powerful antioxidant, to help protect the skin against UVA radiation; and Shea Butter Esters for non-greasy moisturizing. Game Set Match Body Lotion SPF 50 ( $38) features non-nano zinc oxide for broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sun protection, and allantoin (an extract from the comfrey plant) to smooth and prevent dry skin. The formula absorbs quickly, with no white cast on all skin tones, and is water and sweat-resistant for 80 minutes.
This Tulip Dew Sunscreen Serum mineral broad spectrum sunscreen (with 12% zinc oxide) is laden with multivitamins. The hydrating formula ($65) goes beyond the skincare staples we love (niacinamide, vitamins C, D, E, and hyaluronic acid) to include a Proprietary Dutch Tulip Complex. Thanks to scientific research and two Dutch government grants, founder Kim van Haaster (and her 4th generation Dutch tulip farmer spouse) revealed that tulips are an untapped resource for the beauty world. Cellular growth, collagen production and water retention are among the benefits from upcycled imperfect tulip bulbs that would otherwise be discarded.
The lightweight formula is silky and hydrating, and protects skin against sun, pollution, blue light and free radicals. While there is color in the product, it rubs in easily – leaving no white or tinted cast – and boasts a dewy finish. Buyer beware: while the serum lends itself to a morning routine, you need to reapply often to get SPF effects.
While it initially appears white, thanks to 20% Zinc Oxide, Daily Dew SPF 35 ($26) blends in beautifully. With sea kelp, aloe vera, rice bran extract, glycerin and sunflower extract, it contains as much gentle nourishing hydration as sun protection. While Daily Dew was designed for the face, it can be used everywhere. TQE also loves the brand’s first body sunscreen Cloud Cover (starting at $28), featuring the same glorious benefits as Daily Dew.
The baby-friendly Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 (starting at $13.50) features 20% non-nano Zinc Oxide and moisturizing ingredients squalene and glycerin. Wild gooseberry extract helps calm the effects of infrared light, which can heat and irritate delicate baby skin, while plant-derived antioxidant bisabolol calms irritation and moisturizes. While it appears white at the start, it’s easy to rub in (a must for kids!) but proceed with caution: it is not water-resistant.
While the brand began its research journey 45 years ago in Barcelona, it has recently been touted by doctors and celebs (Miranda Kerr, Zosia Mamet) alike. More than a phenomenal mineral sunscreen, Isdin leverages expertise in photoaging and includes patented enzymes (DNA Repairsomes®) that are activated by light itself to repair past sun damage. The Eryfotona Actinica, Daily Mineral SPF 50+ ($60)’s fast-absorbing, ultralight formula protects skin while clinically proven photolyase (a repair enzyme derived from plankton) repair existing sun damage.
Regardless of what products you choose, sunscreen is all about timing. Reapply every two hours and don’t use it sparingly. You can also supplement sun protection in style – with everything from sun hats and sunglasses to rash guards and UPF clothing.