Block It Out Block It Out

Block It Out

Author Veronica McCarthy

So this story is about sunscreen. Not exactly the sexiest of topic, I know. But to be fair, neither is a décolletage that looks like vintage cowhide. So I’m going to do my best to sex this up for you so that not only will you have better, smoother skin for longer (because you know, it’s the number one skin ager and all), you may even retain some of this info and become a sunscreen bandit too.

Being Aussie, I’m obsessed with sunscreen. Like, I currently have three on rotation, plus a couple options for my face. That’s because we’ve got a fat ass ozone layer hole hanging right over us, so there’s no filter before the UV hits our skin. Ouch. This fact also wins us the illustrious title of “country with the highest rate of skin cancer.” See? Olympic swimming is not the only thing us Aussies are good at.

Now, here’s what you need to know. There are two types of sunscreens and they both operate very differently.

Chemical sunscreen:
These work by using some magic sorcery (“science”) to convert the harmful UVA and UVB rays into non-harmful heat and send them back out into the ether. Or, as Park Avenue plastic surgeon Dr. Melissa Doft simply explains, “chemical sunscreens absorb the rays so that they’re not transmitted to your skin.” These tend to be better for sport or active days because they’re more sweat and water-resistant.

Physical sunscreen:
These use minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to physically block and reflect the sun from your skin. These are great for people with sensitive skin or allergies because zinc, in particular, has a low allergen rate.

The SP Factor:
Now grab some wine because we’re going to talk about sun protection factor (also known as SPF), which is weird and confusing and not linear – which as a non-numbers person breaks my tiny brain. And rosé definitely helps.

A sunscreen with an SPF 30 filters around 97 percent of UVB rays, whereas an SPF 50 blocks around 98 percent – and the increase is even more minimal after 50+. See, what the SPF actually tells you is how long you’re protected for.

Dr. Doft explains, “it measures how much solar energy is required to burn skin that’s protected by sunscreen, so if at midday it would take you 10 minutes without sunscreen to get red, wearing SPF 30 would prevent this for 300 minutes.” And this is why reapplying every two to three hours is necessary, even if it clashes with Spritz O’Clock.

Only buy broad spectrum:
Really simply put, UVA rays are the aging, dermis-destroying ones, and UVB’s are the ones responsible for surface damage – like sunburn. Broad spectrum sunscreen protects against both, and you should always be buying a SPF 30 or higher.

Apply it right:
Chemical sunscreens need to bond to your skin, so apply to a fresh face directly after you cleanse. Also, they need 20 minutes for the bonding to happen so you can’t just slap it on and run out the door. Physical blockers go on at the end of your skin routine. And finally, make sure you’re using enough – around a nickel size for your face and two tablespoons for your body.

Yes, you do need it daily:
Even in winter. Even on overcast days. Those rays are mighty and can penetrate glass, plus up to 80 percent of UV rays can pass through clouds.

Stay away from Oxybenzone:
This ingredient is common in sunscreen however, as Dr. Doft explains “it’s been shown to cause allergic reactions and to act as a weak estrogen with anti-androgenic effects.” It can also cause skin reactions, despite being approved by the FDA. Interestingly, Hawaii also recently banned sunscreens with oxybenzone, but for a whole different reason: because it was contributing to the destruction of the island’s coral reefs and ocean creatures… which pretty much speaks for itself.

What about toxicity?
Yes, chemical sunscreens do contain chemical active ingredients. And some of those will be absorbed into your body through the skin. The FDA has not looked into the potential hazards of these filters and there is little information or conclusive evidence about most of these active ingredients to determine whether they are in fact toxic – the exception of course being oxybenzone, which really should be avoided.

If you’re concerned about toxicity, opt for a zinc based physical block (but avoid ones with nano particles until we know more on them), and check out the Environmental Working Group’s table on active ingredient toxicity to see how your sunscreen fares.

Look out for infared protection:
Traditional sunscreens don’t protect from these rays, which travel deep into the layers of the skin causing free radical damage. However, it is becoming more common so look out for products that do both.

But, what about vitamin D?
It’s true that we all need vitamin D: it’s good for bones, health and general happiness. And yes, vitamin D deficiency is not good news, and we should all be aware of it.

But, how much we need depends on a whole host of things including age, ethnicity, body weight, health, where we live, time of year (and more). Some experts will recommend 15 minutes of exposed sunlight multiple times a week (in the morning, when the sun is less harsh, and for very limited time), but again many things can affect how much of vitamin D you get from that sunlight, including whether you live in the city, your skin color and the pollution levels.

If you’re concerned about your vitamin D levels, you can have these checked by a healthcare professional, and take supplements to support these levels, as well as eating foods rich in vitamin D and antioxidants.

Ingestible sunscreen is a thing:
Though the jury is still out on whether these are effective (especially as the protection factor is so low), there are now pills and drinks that claim to have sunscreen protection benefits. These use high level antioxidants to fight free radicals which help protect again cellular damage, but experts advise that these shouldn’t replace, but be in addition to traditional sunscreen.