Choosing a safe and right sunscreen can be daunting and confusion. Don’t you think? Worry not! To save you time, energy and money (on the wrong or unsuitable products), I’ve done the hard work for you. By going through the following content, you will be able to grasp key fundamentals for selecting an all-natural sunscreen for your body and acne-prone skin. Don’t be scared by the wealth of information below. The amazing part of this post is that: all the research and findings below only yields eight very simple steps that take you less than a minute to evaluate if a product is right for you, which I will share with you in the end. How awesome is that?!
UVA and UVB
First, we will start off by exploring two most damaging rays the sun produces: long-wave ultraviolet A (UVA) and short-wave ultraviolet B (UVB).
Certain amount of exposure to UVB is actually beneficial because it helps your skin produce vitamin D. According to US News Health, it is a good thing to take a little unprotected time in the sun during the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest and UVB rays can penetrate the atmosphere. Only a few minutes per day of sun exposure for people with lighter skin and 15-20 minutes per day for people with darker skin could actually prove beneficial for the body by getting some Vitamin D. It is overexposure to sunlight that creates health problems.
Over exposure to UVB rays can lead to sun burn, while UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, lead to free radical damage, and cause the skin to age without you feeling the effects. UVB rays affect skin primarily between 10am and 4pm; and UVA rays cause invisible damage to the skin during all daylight hours. Worse still, both rays can even cause skin cancer, the most common cancer of all kinds.
Additionally, breakouts can happen, especially in summer months, due to over-exposure to the sun, which can cause skin damage and irritation. If you are using antibiotics or applying Benzoyl Peroxide for acne treatment (both of which I do not recommend because they don’t cure the root problems and even cause other health issues), then using a sunscreen for protection becomes the key. They both can increase skin sensitivity to sun exposure, causing irritation and probably more breakouts!
What you should do:
— It is okay to go out with bare face for a couple minutes for fair skinned people, and 15-20 minutes for people with darker skin;
— Make sure you apply sunscreen if you go out a longer period of time to avoid skin damage and minimize the chance of breaking out (if you have acne prone skin).
Since overexposure of both rays can lead different skin damage, it is important to choose a sunscreen that not only blocks UVB (skin-burning) rays but also UVA (skin aging) rays at the same time. That’s why you should look for the term “broad spectrum” on the label, which means that this particular product blocks both UVB and UVA.
What you should do:
— Make sure you look for the term “Broad Spectrum” on the label.
UVB Protector – SPF
SPF stands for Sunburn Protection Factor. It is a measurement of a sunscreen’s effectiveness against sunburn-causing UVB rays. From here, you see that it is not enough to just look at SPF ratings, because they are only limited to blocking UVB.
What is the minimum amount of SPF for a particular sunscreen to be effective? Mayo Clinic states that “only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer or prevent early skin aging”. But if you will stay outside for more than two hours, make sure you apply a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
In general, the higher the rating goes, the more protection you will get. Specifically speaking, SPF 15 offers 93% of UVB protection; SPF 30, 97%; SPF 50, 98%; and SPF 100, 99%.
Now, what have you discovered here? Did you notice that: doubling an SPF rating does not mean receiving twice the amount of protection? So, do not let a sunscreen with SPF 100 trick you to believe that you will get twice the amount of protection of what you’ll get from SPF 50 sunscreen. The truth is, as Environmental Working Group states that, “When used correctly, sunscreen with SPF values in the range of 30 to 50 will offer strong sunburn protection, even for people most sensitive to sunburn”.
Even though it is generally true that higher ratings give more UVB protection, it doesn’t mean that the higher the better. On one hand, because UVA and UVB protection do not harmonize, high-SPF products can prevent sunburn but may not protect against other types of sun damage like aging caused by UVA rays. On the other hand, high-SPF products may lead to greater health risks. That’s because higher concentrations of sun-filtering are used in high-SPF products. Some ingredients have been linked to tissue damage, potential hormone disruption and skin allergies as well. Even FDA believes that SPF higher than 50 is “inherently misleading” and “is proposing to allow specific labeled SPF values only up to 50”.
So, at the end of the day, we should ask ourselves this question: if high SPF does not mean more effective protection from sun damage but can raise different other health issues, why should we bother choosing SPF high than 50?
What you should do:
— Choose SPF 15 or higher;
— Opt for SPF 30-50, if you stay outside for 2 hours or more.
A primary UVA-absorbing chemical is called avobenzone. This agent is not photostable, that is, in sunlight ingredients can degrade into unknown chemicals. This will diminish the sunscreen’s effectiveness. Even though the addition of a chemical called octocrylene may be able to stabilize the unstable avobenzone, octocrylene itself produces free radicals and can cause irritation to sensitive individuals.
In fact, the use of sunscreens with chemicals in general raises several health issues:
First, with this type of sunscreens applied on skin, UV rays are absorbed and then released as a small amount of heat, which may cause discomfort (especially during summer time).
Second, chemicals can irritate the skin, which is why it is recommended that people with sensitive skin opt for other options with natural ingredients only.
Additionally, like octocrylene, potentially harmful chemicals such as dioxybenzone and oxybenzone can also generate free radicals and cause a series of other health problems.
As an alternative, you should look for natural ingredients (i.e. zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), especially when you have sensitive skin. Both ingredients are stable in the bottle, stable on your sun exposed skin, and not absorbed into the body. They are considered by Environmental Working Group to be “among the best choices on the American market”. Between the both ingredients, zinc oxide provides greater UVA protection than titanium dioxide.
There are two things that could become your concerns. Both ingredients can cause the skin to feel dry and leave a white cast on the skin. But I’d say: just go out there and experiment yourself first to see what fits you. I’ve recently bought Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 with Green Tea by Dr. Mercola, which contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients, and have used it for three or four times over the past few weeks already. Regarding the texture itself, I didn’t feel dryness on my skin. And it didn’t leave a white case over my face, either.
When choosing an ideal sunscreen, make sure the product contains at least 5% of either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to effectively protect the skin from harmful UVA rays, according to Dr. Cynthia Bailey, dermatologist and skin care expert based in Sebastopol, CA.
If you have acne-prone skin like mine, consider zinc oxide as your first option. Titanium dioxide can clog pores and can be inflammatory due to their propensity to release free radicals. So, choose zinc oxide over titanium dioxide, according to Marie Veronique Organics, a skincare company (based in Mill Valley, CA) dedicated to using natural, organic and fair trade ingredients.
What you should do:
— Choose products that ONLY contain natural and mineral ingredients, especially for sensitive and acne-prone skin;
— Choose zinc oxide over titanium dioxide;
— Make sure concentration of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is 5% or higher.
So, what should you do while evaluating a list of inactive ingredients? Here is a list of what you can do:
— Choose natural ingredients to avoid skin irritation;
— For ingredients you are not sure of, refer to EWG Skin Deep Database (that’s what I’ve been doing all the time);
— Marie Veronique Organics suggests watching out for wax-based natural ingredients, as they may clog pores;
Choosing Sunscreen for Acne-prone Skin in Less than a Minute
Don’t feel overwhelmed by this load of information I have provided you here. In fact, all you need to do is follow simple steps until you reach your ideal natural sunscreen. Below are eight steps I’ve summarized for you. As mentioned at the beginning, this only takes you about less than a minute to evaluate one product!
- Look for the term “Broad Spectrum” on the label
- Choose SPF 15 or higher (or opt for SPF 30-50, if you stay outside for 2 hours or more)
- Make sure the product only contains zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide, or both (choose zinc oxide over titanium dioxide as the primary active ingredient, if possible)
- Make sure concentration of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is 5% or higher
- Skip products that contain insect repellent ingredients (e.g. DEET)
- Choose products that only contain natural ingredients (for active and inactive ingredients)
- Skip products that contain wax
- For ingredients you are not sure of, refer to EWG Skin Deep Database
Demonstration of How to Choose a Sunscreen
To make this even clearer and more understandable to you, here is an example to help you go through the selection process. As a side note: I had already bought this product – Natural Sunscreen with Green Team by Dr. Mercola – before I did any thorough research. So you’ll see this product does not meet all the requirements.
First, check the front of the bottle for the term “Broad Spectrum” and SPF rating.
Then, turn to the back of the bottle and look for active ingredients and concentrations on the top. Watch out for insect repellent ingredients like DEET.
Later, move down till you reach the “inactive ingredients” section. Make sure they are all natural ingredients. And watch out for “wax”.
Last but not least, if you come across ingredients that you have never heard of, go to Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database for research.
Finally, Two Other Sunscreens I’ve just Discovered…
After rigorous study and hours of research, I later found out two brands that I would like to try out, both of which were rated as “The Best Beach & Sports Sunscreens” by Environmental Working Group. They both only contain zinc oxide as the active ingredient; and I’ve personally gone through every single ingredient on the label. I will come back again later to do reviews on both products (and on Dr. Mercola’s sunscreen as well) to share what I discover.
Choice #1: All Terrain TerraSport Lotion SPF 30
Choise #2: Purple Prairie SunStuff SPF 30
Is there a set of sunscreen selection criteria you stick to? Or, what else do you think it is important to know while we select an all-natural sunscreen for acne-prone skin? Look forward to your comments below!
Have a fun and UV-proof summer,
P.S. I am working on Holistic Summer Skincare Package where you will learn how to truly take care of your skin from all perspectives such as:
- What Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners recommend about how to eat right in this summer for clear skin and healthier body
- Expert advice on skincare steps you must not skip for clear and nourished skin
- Step-by-step guide to choose a right foundation for acne prone skin
- A summer skincare challenge to help you get started and, most importantly, follow through!
I strongly encourage you to join me, as I want you to take actions to bring your skin to the next level.