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For speed readers: check out my 10-second summary below
- Some sun can be healthy, but sometimes we need sunscreen (think beach days, acne, photoaging)
- The crazy reason you should use a zinc-based STICK, or a brand that has ensured their zinc doesn't separate
- Try the 3 Bs: Beautycounter, Badger or Babo STICKS (or one super natural option – read to find out more)
Some sun can be healthy, but sometimes we 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 potentially dangerous, misleading or ineffective ingredients and opting for sun barriers when needed instead (clothing + shade)
Yet I recently realized that I need to expand on this even further. While I believe I’m RIGHT about the evidence showing that smart sun exposure is healthy and that avoiding overexposure is key, let's be honest. Most of us want to be out in the sun for longer than we really should.
We want to be in the sun all day – and often, well beyond our skin's natural burning threshold.
And when shade and protective clothing just aren't going to happen, some topical sun protection is necessary to avoid a one-way ticket to burn city and all the damage that comes with it.
So let's pick the safest, most tried-and-true option possible.
Over the years, sun protection has been called several different things – most commonly, sunscreen and sunblock. The difference? Sunblocks contained zinc, which creates a physical barrier against both UVA and UVB. The downside to zinc-based sun protection? White, creamy mess.
Sunscreens were much more sheer, but only protected against one type of ray.
Today, no sun protection product is called “sunblock” any more, because the term “sunblock” presents a liability issue – it implies a product that doesn't need reapplication, when in reality, you should ALWAYS reapply.
Everything is called “sunscreen” now, but there are a ton of different options under that umbrella.
All sunscreens are now required to offer some protection from both UVA and UVB. This is where the term “broad-spectrum” came from – it's really an alternative to the term “sunblock” that still indicates protection against both types of rays (but not necessarily using zinc).
But these “broad-spectrum” options might give us a false sense of security, because they make us feel like all rays are blocked, all the time. In truth, the only requirement is that a certain percentage of UVA protection is offered compared to the UVB protection in a given product.
This is where we get in to maths, which is not my strong suit. What I do know is that the protection offered from these products is very different, and lesser, than what we get from clothing.
Another downside: most broad-spectrum, non-zinc sunscreens are based on chemicals that might contribute to mutagenic changes in the skin when exposed to UV light, as well as potential environmental harm. These are the products with ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone. More research is needed, but I'm most comfortable with a more inert, physical, visible barrier from zinc.
From here on out, we'll call non-zinc sunscreens chemical sunscreens, and zinc-based sunscreens physical sunscreens.
But, even with zinc-based physical sunscreen options, we need to choose wisely.
The CRAZY reason you should use a zinc-based STICK
The number one mistake people make when choosing safer sunscreen is that they don’t realize when the ingredients have SEPARATED.
With some sunscreen lotions, zinc – the key ingredient – can separate from the rest of the ingredients, lessening the sun protection. You're particularly at risk when your sunscreen is from, say, last summer.
In zinc sunscreens formulated to be sheer, we might not realize this separation has occurred! The exception? The brands I recommend have an excellent track record, and Beautycounter has even created both non-aerosol spray and lotion sunscreens that don't separate. Hooray!
That’s why, in general, I think zinc-based sunscreen STICKS are ideal. The ingredients that hold zinc in suspension are much more solid – and bonus, more skin-conditioning – so you’re more likely to get the coverage you need.
This is particularly important on the face, especially for those with acne-prone skin, since the sun can oxidize the skin's oils and cause inflammation, worsening acne.
Try the 3 Bs: Beautycounter, Badger or Babo
Here are the zinc-based physical sunscreen brands I like:
- Beautycounter. Countersun has solid suspension ingredients in an antioxidant-rich base THAT NOW PROTECTS AGAINST BLUE LIGHT as well as UVA and UVB! This is a MAJOR innovation, and helps block the pro-aging damage from blue light unlike any other sunscreen. This is my favorite for adult skin, AND I use it on my little one, too, when I don't have her Badger Balm handy. (I prefer Beautycounter for myself because it's more sheer than the other options.)
- Badger Balm, a favorite of mine for many years, makes excellent products across the board that are also affordable. (Although I prefer Beautycounter because it's much more sheer.) 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 spring and summer. This may protect you from sunburn and sun damage from the inside.
- 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.
Here's to safe sun exposure!
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