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When it comes to sun protection, how do you differentiate between the various formulas and levels of SPF? How much is enough, particularly when sun protection is now commonly found in our cosmetics and other daytime serums?

There’s no question that UV protection is absolutely essential. UV rays are responsible for 90 percent of the skin’s aging, not to mention the leading cause of cancer in the US. But with so many sun protection formulas on the market, changes in sunscreen regulations, and the amount of misinformation circulating about sunscreen ingredients, how do we know if what we’re using is actually protecting their skin or causing more damage?

No matter where you stand on the chemical vs. mineral sun protection issue, the bottom line is educating consumers on all aspects of sun protection is imperative. Not only is it critical to their overall health, prevention is their best defense against aging skin.

The sun and skin

First, let’s clear the air about sun. We all need it, but in moderation. It’s important for skin and our overall wellbeing. Exposure to sunlight has an energizing effect, is good for the soul, and is a source of vitamin D – D3, which is critical for liver functionality. Ten minutes in the sun each day can be highly beneficial, but we still need a layer of protection.

Minerals and sunscreen

Topical sunscreens are broadly classified into two groups: chemical absorbers and physical blockers. Chemical absorbers work by absorbing UV rays while physical blockers reflect UV rays. There has long been much debate between chemical vs. physical blockers, but the fact is, a vast majority of SPF (sun protection factor) formulas on the shelves today have a long list of chemicals that subject the skin to dangerous ingredients. These unstable chemicals are also then absorbed by the body, and have been linked to a host of health issues within the skin and beyond.

Physical blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are not absorbed by the skin. Instead, these sit on the skin’s surface, blocking UVA and UVB rays and acting as a natural reflective shield. It’s also important to note, formulas labeled “SPF” only refer to UVB-ray protection, but now the FDA requires sunscreens to indicate on their labels whether they protect against UVA rays as well. The UVA/UVB protection labels will read “Broad Spectrum SPF”, and only those of SPF 15 and higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and photo-damage.

It is recommended to opt for an SPF of 30 if you plan to be in direct sunlight for several hours, as it provides 97 percent protection from UV damage. No sunscreen will block all UV rays and it’s commonly thought there’s a drastic difference between SPF 15 and SPF 50, but it’s really only a 5 percent difference in coverage. On a daily basis, an SPF 15-25 is sufficient for normal sun exposure such as walking to and from the car or in and out of buildings, but that’s not we all do.

Ingredients that enhance sun protection

Beyond the type of sunscreen used, it’s important to look at the entire ingredient deck. Formulas comprising more natural, antioxidant- and mineral-rich ingredients will not only support the skin in maintaining optimal health, they will also further enhance the UV protection benefits. For instance, ingredients like olea europaea (olive) oil and tocopherols, which are rich in vitamin E, help protect the skin from UV damage and reduce the formation of free radicals to aid in the prevention of cell damage. It’s also important to give the skin sufficient antioxidants prior to the sunscreen application for additional support and to ensure more concentrated protection against free radicals. Antioxidants increase the SPFs ability to work.

Some of our sun protection favorites include:

  • Daytime Defense SPF30 –– a water-resistant formula that that blends potent herbs and minerals that act as a natural sun barrier and provides antioxidant and soothing support.
  • eZinc Protection SPF22 –– a highly protective topical that guards the skin against environmental aggressors while providing hydrating, healing and anti-inflammatory support.
  • Sheer Tint Finisher –– a lightweight, mineral-based day cream boosted with a potent does of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients that gives skin a healthy glow with a hint of color.

Whichever side of the chemical vs. physical fence you land on, when selecting the right protection, please take into consideration what will provide the best health benefit to the skin. I always like to say the best sunscreen is the one they’ll use, but also keep in mind, zinc oxide is an inorganic compound and an essential mineral for our bodies. Not only does this powerful mineral provide broad-spectrum protection, it also plays an important role in cell production, promotes healthy skin and hair, and boosts the immune system ––and who doesn’t like a skincare ingredient that pulls double duty?

@Rhonda Allison