Physical vs. Chemical Sunblock
Now that summer is here, it is more important than ever to understand how your sun protectant works. Choosing the right type of sunblock shields your skin from cancer, wrinkles, aging, pigmentation and other skin related issues, while choosing the wrong product can leave you unprotected and exposed. While it’s important to look at the SPF level, there are a few other factors that are even more important when it comes to sun protection – not all of them are made the same!
In 2017, an American watchdog group tested over 1500 products and found that less than 40% of them protected skin safely and effectively. The biggest contributing factor was the type of sun protectant tested, while physical sunblocks use tiny particles to block UV light from hitting your skin, chemical sunscreen relies on chemical ingredients that “absorb” the UV rays instead.
Two Ways to Protect
There are two important differences to discuss when choosing which type of sun protectant to use. First, physical sunblock actually reflects the UV rays, meaning that both UVA and UVB bounce off of the skin instead of penetrating your cells. Neither option works forever, so be sure to re-apply your sun protectant after you have been outdoors in the sun for a couple hours.
Another issue to consider is the actual chemical blockers used in chemical sunscreen. Many sunscreen manufacturers use blocking chemicals that interfere with your body’s hormonal balance or irritate your skin. If you notice that you break out after you spend time outside this summer, it might not be from the sun, it could be from choosing the wrong sun protectant for your skin. A safe sunscreen we stand behind is our EltaMD, made with pure and moisturizing ingredients that won’t irritate the skin or cause a reaction.
This isn’t to say that all physical sunblock is totally safe to use on your skin either. There are plenty of products that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to keep your skin safe that also have an irritating fragrance, or a foaming agent that you shouldn’t apply on your skin. Be sure to carefully read over the label of any product you intend to use regularly, or check with your skin care specialist to make sure that you are using the right products for you skin-type, with safe ingredients.
Why Wear Sun Protection?
UV light doesn’t just cause sunburns, instead it penetrates your cells and causes a particularly nasty type of damage to your skin deep down that can make your cells age prematurely, wrinkle, or even develop cancer. Despite this, many people do not take the sun seriously. This is especially unfortunate due to the way that sun damage works. As far as we can tell, the damage that UV rays cause to your skin is cumulative and mostly permanent. This means that it is very important to avoid UV exposure if you want to have healthy, youthful skin. Any sunburn you may suffer will remain in your skin’s “memory” for years. The way this cumulative damage works makes it critical for anyone with a high risk of skin cancer to protect themselves very carefully. This includes people who have had precancerous tumors removed, those with a family history of skin cancer, and people with fair skin. Those who suffer with melasma, which are large spots of pigmentation or a shadow-like cast over certain areas of the face, are largely affected by the sun as well. Unfortunately melasma is difficult to clear but can be visibly reduced and lightened with regular treatment, persistent product home care, staying out of the sun, wearing a hat and using a physical SPF with a high protection. All of the above should choose physical sunblock as protection against the sun’s harmful rays.
Follow The Directions
While sunblock can help reduce the amount of UV light that hits your skin, it won’t work properly unless you read and follow the directions. For example, many types of sun protectants stop working if you get wet and others need to be re-applied approximately every two hours. This means your sunblock becomes less effective after several sweaty hours of work, or that quick dip in the pool. Try to find a product that works well with your daily habits. Waterproof sun protection definitely exists, it is just a bit harder to find.
Avoid Skin Damage With Physical Sunblock
Whether you have had a precancerous lesion or just want to keep your skin’s youthful glow, it is important to use an effective sun protectant. Most skin experts – including Essence of L Medi Spa’s Leah LaVanway – suggest using a sun protectant daily regardless of the time of year, as those UV rays are still penetrating whether the sun is present of not. A Physical sunblock will reflect the sun’s UV rays away from your skin, while a chemical sunscreen absorbs the UV rays and breaks it down. Be sure to avoid ingredients that might irritate your skin and follow the directions when you apply your sun protection. Be sure to wear your sun protection all year round, and check with your skincare specialist or doctor about the right UV protection for you.
Written by Leah LaVanway