As the days continue to get longer, we often get questions from our patients about what type of sun protection they should use. Of course, sun damage is stealth — no laughing matter. You often don’t know you have it until you’re older, and all those days out on the water, the golf course or the beach have taken their toll.

Navigating the world of sun protection is getting more confusing than ever, however. Long gone are the days when a simple application of zinc-oxide on your nose or an application of Bullfrog will do the job. The beauty industry, however, has made sun protection WAY more complicated than it needs to be, blurring lines between mineral, chemical and physical applications. Which is safer, which is most effective, and how do any of these apply to you?

We can classify sunscreens into two categories based on the type of UV filters contained within them. The first is organic (strangely, enough, referred to as “chemical”) and the second is inorganic (“mineral”). Chemical filters contain carbon atoms, the basis of all organic matter. Many of the products ending in “-zones”, “-ates”, and “-enes” are common chemical filters here in the U.S. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing and converting UV light into heat within the skin.

As for the “mineral” filters, these products end in  “-ide.” Mineral filters, such as Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide are metal oxides that don’t contain carbon, but are composed of metal and oxygen. They serve as physical blockers that sit on top of the skin and scatter or reflect UV light. Think lifeguards with white cream smeared all over their noses.

As straightforward as both of these types of sun protection applications are, the beauty industry pushes intense debate about them. “Clean beauty” retailers and advocates on social media claim anything made with a chemical compound doesn’t fit into their narrative. This has been further perpetuated by their claims that UV filters containing chemicals are systemically absorbed into the bloodstream. While the FDA mills this over, so far there is nothing that indicates that consumers should refrain from using these filters — filters that are very effective in preventing cancer-causing sunburns.

Bottom line?  ALL skincare ingredients, including UV filters, are “chemicals.” Misguided classification systems in the beauty industry are rampant, and contrary to popular belief – while “mineral” or “physical” sunscreens are often perceived as more “natural” – mineral UV filters may need to be processed and coated before their application in a sunscreen formulation to improve stability, dispersion, and overall performance. 

The common sunscreen ingredient benzophenone-3, also known as oxybenzone or BP-3, can play a role in the development of mammary gland tumors, according to research in mice. Always make sure to check if this ingredient is present in whatever sunscreen you use. Personally, I prefer Zinc Oxide and titanium dioxide as they are barriers. Much has evolved over the years and by making them micronized or nanoparticles so they are so tiny that mixed with a little tint they can blend seamlessly into your skin. However, because they are micronized, it is recommended that you not wear them if swimming in or around coral reefs, as they can damage them.

As we head into summer it is important to use a good sunscreen everyday to protect your skin from the increasing intensity of the sun’s rays. Reapplication every 80-90 minutes is key, especially for a chemical sunscreen. After you sweat or get out of the water, you should re-apply. While mineral sunscreens are less likely to cause a stinging sensation, irritation, or an allergic reaction, chemical sunscreens work for all skin tones since they don’t leave a white cast. We carry Revision’s Intellishade which combines both their proprietary ingredients for their anti-aging face cream with sunscreen in both chemical and mineral. And while supplies last, if you buy Skinceuticals C&E Ferulic (anti-oxidant), you get a free bottle of Fusion SPF 50 (tinted) or Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50.

Skin protection? Just do it. Your skin is your body’s largest organ and is exposed to the elements every single day. For more information on sun protection as well as remediating the damage/premature aging it has already caused, we invite you for a free consultation.