You know that too much time in the sun can fry your skin, but even a short time outdoors can cause significant damage. That’s where sunscreen comes in. By adding a layer of protection, it allows you to stay outside a little longer. But how do you make sense of all those ingredients and SPF numbers?
You’ve come to the right place. Here, Dr. Robert Topham, our skincare specialist at Holladay Dermatology & Aesthetics in the Salt Lake City area of Utah, explains the difference between the various types of sunscreens and which ones work best.
Two types of sunscreen
Sunscreens are formulated to protect your skin from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Although you’d never know it when you stand in the sunscreen aisle at your local drugstore, there are really only two main types of sunscreen: chemical and physical.
As its name suggests, chemical sunscreens rely on chemicals to protect your skin. They do this by absorbing the sun’s rays and converting them to energy before they can do any damage to your skin.
Chemical sunscreens come in multiple forms, including lotions, creams, and sprays. They don’t become effective until your skin absorbs the chemicals, so you need to apply them about a half an hour before you head outdoors.
Instead of soaking into your skin, physical sunscreens stay on the surface, acting as a shield to protect you from the harmful rays. You may see the words “natural” or “mineral” on the label of physical sunscreens, but the ingredient you want to look for is “zinc oxide.”
Zinc oxide is found in other products, too, such as some acne treatments and makeup products, even diaper rash creams, because it’s a natural mineral with excellent protective properties.
How zinc oxide protects your skin from the sun
In sunscreen, zinc oxide reflects sunlight off your body and back into the atmosphere — the harmful rays never make it into your skin at all. Some of the advantages of zinc oxide-based sunscreens over chemical sunscreens are:
- Protects skin from both UVA and UVB rays: chemical sunscreens only block UVB rays
- Works instantly: no waiting for the chemicals to sink in
- Safe for all skin types: chemical-based sunscreens can irritate sensitive skin and may cause acne
Wherever you apply zinc oxide sunscreen, you gain the best protection available short of staying indoors. Like all sunscreens, you need to reapply every hour or so, depending on factors, such as perspiration, swimming, sun intensity, and skin type.
What’s the best sunscreen?
Dr. Topham recommends a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide for all the benefits we just mentioned, and he recommends one brand in particular because it comes with one more perk — it’s transparent.
Whereas most zinc oxide products go on white and leave a “ghostly” pallor on the skin, EltaMD® starts and stays clear. We think it’s one of the best broad-spectrum physical sunscreens available, which is why we carry it here in our office.
EltaMD is also non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog your pores and trigger acne breakouts. No fragrances, colors, or parabens mean that you can use it liberally, even if you have rosacea, active acne, melasma, or other skin issues.
To protect yourself from the sun and help prevent skin cancer this summer, talk to Dr. Topham about zinc oxide sunscreen. Contact us by phone or online to schedule an appointment.