Laser Skin Care Learning Center

Understanding the Ingredients in Sunscreen

Posted by Dr. Ruth Shields on Sat, Oct 18, 2014 @ 08:30 AM

Understanding_the_Ingredients_in_SunscreenThese days, virtually everyone knows that they should be wearing sunscreen to protect their skin against damaging UV radiation from the sun. Did you know that 90% of the aging appearance of skin is due to sun damage? Just what sort of product to use is often a source of confusion. Even a superficial glance at the many skin care articles out there will make it clear that all sunblocks are not created equal. That's why knowing what to look for in the ingredients in sunscreen should be your goal rather than just looking at the SPF number. After all, if you are going to spend your hard-earned cash on these products and invest your time applying them as recommended, you want to know that your investment is paying off in terms of effective protection against sun damage and skin cancer.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV radiation from the sun, greatly reducing the amount that penetrates the skin. Ingredients that you will likely see listed on the label of a chemical product include avobenzone, octocrylene, methoxycinnamate, octysalate, oxybenzone or homosalate. If you use a chemical sunblock, you should know that some of these products only protect against UVB radiation, so be sure to look for products that state that they have ingredients that absorb both UVA and UVB for the most effective skin protection.

Physical Sunblocks

Physical sunblocks provide skin with a protective coating of minerals that reflect UV radiation away before it can penetrate the skin. Ingredients found in these products include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The most effective protection when using a physical sunblock is found in products that contain both of these ingredients, since they offer the best protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.

Chemical Or Physical, Which Is Best?

Both types, so long as you choose products that are protective against both UVA and UVB, can offer effective protection against sun damage to the skin. However, there are some differences between the two. Chemical sunblocks, since their ingredients penetrate more deeply into the skin, have greater potential to cause skin irritation then physical sunblocks, making them less suitable for use in children and individuals with sensitive skin. Additionally, research reported by the Environmental Working Group suggests that  some chemical sunblocks, particularly oxybenzone and octinoxate, may be endocrine disruptors. These are more likely to trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals than physical sunblocks.

That said, either type is better than no protection at all in terms of skin health. The physical blockers, zinc and titanium, are more likely to be protective all day if one is not swimming or sweating or mechanically wiping it off. The chemical sunscreens need to be re-applied every 90 minutes for prolonged sun exposure at the beach or at poolside. Other precautions against excessive UV exposure may also be necessary. In addition to applying a sunblock product with an SPF of at least 15 for daily use and at least 30 for prolonged periods of sun exposure, seek shade as much as possible when you are outdoors, avoid outings during the hottest part of the day, and wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, hats and sunglasses.

While that may seem like a lot of hassle to go through to enjoy a picnic or a walk in the park, the thing to remember is this: Most of the wrinkles and discoloration that we tend to blame on aging are actually caused by sun damage. Then there also is the UV/skin cancer connection to consider, since it kills thousands of Americans every year. So take the time to take care of your skin – it is well worth the effort.

Bay Area Skin Care

Tags: sunscreen