An underlined hyperlink denotes an affiliate or Amazon Services LLC link. For more information, see the disclosure at the end of this page or click here to learn more.
Real Food Liz/Liz Wolfe is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Regarding other affiliate links and affiliate relationships: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. For more information, click here.
For speed readers: check out my 10-second summary below
- You might NEED sunscreen (think beach days, acne, photoaging)
- The CRAZY reason you should use a zinc-based STICK
- Try the 3 Bs: Beautycounter (face or body), Badger or Babo STICKS (or one non-SPF option – read to find out more)
You might NEED sunscreen (think beach days, acne, photoaging)
I wrote in detail about the truth about sun exposure in my book Eat the Yolks. While I covered the basics, like:
- The sun is NOT the enemy
- We actually NEED sun exposure to get adequate vitamin D & critical photoproducts
- RESPONSIBLE sun exposure is key – which includes AVOIDING sunscreens with dangerous, misleading or ineffective ingredients and opting for sun barriers when needed instead (clothing + shade)
Yet I recently found out that there is a LOT I didn’t know about sunscreen, and my sister Laura, my beauty products expert, along with my brilliant mom Alexis – yep, even the experts need experts 😉 did the legwork on the research to help shorten my learning curve.
Thanks to them, I am now positive that the sun exposure/sun protection issue is even more complex than I thought.
“It’s complicated,” Laura told me. (Surprise, surprise!) “You’ve got to really know how sunscreen is made to choose not just the safest brand, but the safest TYPE of protection within that brand.”
I asked my experts what more we needed to know about sun exposure and smart sun protection besides what I discuss in Eat the Yolks, and here’s what I learned:
- That I’m RIGHT about sun exposure being healthy – and that avoiding overexposure is key. (I LOVE being right.)
- HOWEVER, let’s be honest: most of us want to be out in the sun for longer than our skin really would allow (translation: burn city.)
- This means we need a SAFE sun barrier, and if you don’t want to cover up, like in 90 degree heat; or if there’s no shade to be found, like on most beaches; it’s time for a safe sunscreen option.
This is ESPECIALLY important for ACNE-PRONE skin and for protection against photodamage.
Overexposure can damage the skin’s fragile oils and make photodamage, acne and irritation WORSE, so even if you hate sunscreen, get some safe stuff for your face.
Here’s what’s fascinating: I always thought that the “safest” kinds of sun protection, besides clothes and shade, were “sunblocks” – white, creamy, zinc-based lotions that don’t fully rub in.
Turns out, those aren’t ACTUALLY sunblocks at all. No lotion or stick product is called “sunblock” any more, because “sunBLOCK” implies something that doesn’t need to be reapplied. And you should ALWAYS reapply any sun protection product.
“No product you apply can be truly trusted to BLOCK the sun,” Laura said.
“The term sunBLOCK implies a product that doesn’t require reapplication, and that’s just a liability issue – absolutely nothing is foolproof.
“Your choices are really between chemical sunscreens (not good) and physical zinc-based sunscreens, which are safer, but you need to choose wisely.”
Originally, decades ago, “screens” only protected against UVA, but they are now required to offer some UVA and UVB protection. This is where the term “broad-spectrum” came from – it was the alternative to sunblock that still indicated protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Most chemical-based sunscreens on the market (anything WITHOUT zinc oxide – these use “-benzone” ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone – avoid!), which includes Neutrogena, Coppertone and Banana Boat, not only basically fib about their SPF (anything over 50 is pretty much hooey, as SPF maxes out between 30 & 50)
…but worse, the chemical sunscreens also use ingredients that may become MORE dangerous when they’re exposed to UV light.
Laura says that “the safest sunscreen you can buy is a PHYSICAL (zinc-based) sunscreen – but you’ve got to choose the right kind.
“And remember, avoid physical sunscreens with titanium dioxide, which might also undergo changes during light exposure. Zinc oxide only!”
The CRAZY reason you should use a zinc-based STICK
THIS is what blew my mind.
Laura says: “the number one mistake people make when choosing safer sunscreen is that they don’t realize when the ingredients have SEPARATED.
“With many lotions, the zinc separates from the suspension ingredients – and we don’t even realize it! Sun products are difficult to mix up – they don’t shake well – so it’s a real risk.”
Here’s where my jaw dropped. Because really, it’s so simple. Yet I NEVER even thought about it.
Since so many zinc sunscreens nowadays are meant to leave less of a white, thick appearance, it’s even harder to tell whether we’re adequately covered.
Add that to suspension ingredients that don’t maintain the blend of zinc with carrier ingredients and you’ve got compromised protection.
That’s why zinc-based sunscreen STICKS are ideal!
“The suspension ingredients are much more solid – and often, more skin-conditioning – so you’re more likely to get the coverage you need, especially on the face,” Laura told me.
I’ve been a convert to sticks ever since!
(Oh, and I never use spray sunscreens, which also have inhalation risks.)
Try the 3 Bs: Beautycounter, Badger or Babo
Sadly, there aren’t a lot of physical sunscreens that I can recommend – because
- Many brands don’t have a stick option; or
- Some of the quality brands appear to be tested on animals, which is a no-no in my book; or
- The base ingredients aren’t ideal.
Here are the zinc-based physical stick sunscreens I like:
- Beautycounter has a face AND a larger body stick with a not-too-high, easily blendable zinc concentration plus solid suspension ingredients in an antioxidant-rich base. This is my favorite for adult skin, AND I use it on my little one, too, in addition to Badger Balm.(I have sensitive, acne-prone skin that I’m trying to protect from photodamage as much as possible, and the size of the face stick makes it easy to apply to my kiddo. She even loves trying to do it herself.)
- Badger Balm, a favorite of mine for many years, makes excellent products across the board – their stick is no exception, and it’s excellent for kids and adults. Find out more here.
- Babo Botanicals has a 20% zinc oxide concentration in their stick, and it’s great for kids and for sensitive skin. Find out more here.
Other smart ways to protect your skin:
- Primal Life Organics has an AMAZING protective stick called Sun Up Ultra that contains Zinc Oxide and Red Raspberry Seed Oil, which is one of the most photoprotective ingredients on the planet. It's AMAZING, and although it doesn't have an assigned SPF (the only reason it's not in my top 3, since I was only reviewing SPF sunscreens), it has worked for us perfectly on even super sunny days at the beach.
- Take an astaxanthin supplement through the summer. This may protect you from sunburn and sun damage from the inside.
- A vitamin E (mixed tocopherol) supplement might help protect the skin from damage as well. Most are derived from soy, so make sure you can tolerate trace amounts. I do well with a brand called Unique E.
- Eat plenty of coconut oil!
- Use topical products designed to keep skin healthy and strong in the summer. Primal Life Organics before and after sun products are excellent, and Primally Pure also has a fantastic balm that contains zinc oxide.
I hope this helps shed some sun – er, light on a complicated topic!
Have a fantastic day!
-Liz (& Laura, and Alexis – my sunscreen experts!)
Want more? Try my Email Exclusives!
Stay in the know & get exclusive subscriber-only goodies!