Sunscreen 101

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the US than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will be diagnosed in their lifetime. I really take these statistic to heart—my husband was diagnosed with melanoma about three years ago. (He had the spot removed and needed no further treatment other than frequent follow-ups with the oncologist for skin checks.) This puts our boys at a greater risk for developing skin cancer, so I am hyper-aware of selecting the safest, most powerful sunscreen available for them (and my husband and I).

This article is broken down into three section to help you understand the suns rays, the two main types of sunscreen and what you should look for when you purchase sunscreen.

The Rays Defined

The sun has a full spectrum of different wavelengths. The two wavelengths most relevant to sunscreen protection are UVB and UVA. 

The damage from UVB rays are detectable by the human eye—they penetrate the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin) and lead to sunburn and skin damage. These rays are relevant to skin cancer risk. 

The damage from UVA rays are not detectable by the human eye—they penetrate the second layer of the skin, the dermis. These rays do not change the color of the skin, but they do lead to free radical damage that causes age spots, wrinkles and other signs of aging.

Think of it like this:

UVB = Burning.

UVA = Aging.

Daily exposure to sun is suspected to cause many of the signs of aging. UVA rays are always intense no matter the season. They can penetrate glass and clouds—you literally can’t hide from them.

Main Types of Sunscreen

There are two main types of sunscreen: chemical and mineral.

The vast majority of sunscreens on the market are chemical. These absorb and scatter the sun’s rays as heat. These are popular because they provide easy, transparent, blendability into the skin, however, most chemical sunscreens are made with harmful ingredients like octinoxate and oxybenzone. Not only are these irritating to the skin, they also cause damage to coral reefs. Chemicals in sunscreen can be absorbed into your skin or inhaled through spray.

Mineral sunscreen sits on the skin’s surface and bounces or reflects the sun’s rays. Mineral sunscreens are safe for sensitive skin, babies and kids. Two main ingredients use in mineral sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

An article recently published by ABC News stated that the FDA announced a proposed rule to declare mineral sunscreens safe, saying that all mineral sunscreens are safe, but products that use chemicals are not. Until the rule is passed, products with harmful chemicals will still be available. You have to truly be your own advocate for safety and check product labels. You can use the quick tips below to help you.

Just a quick note on SPF: SPF stands for “sun protecting factor” and it only measures defense against UVB rays. SPF 15 is the minimum level of protection for skin defense against cancer. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays and SPF 30 block 97% of UVB rays.

What to Look For

  • Broad spectrum which ensures defense against UVB and UVA. (Protection against burning, skin cancer and aging.)
  • Mineral ingredients: zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • SPF 30. This will block 97% of UVB rays. (SPF 15 is the minimum level of protection for skin defense against cancer.)
  • Non-aerosol sprays.
  • Non-nano particles. (These are larger particles that have a lower risk of being inhaled or absorbed.)

All of Beautycounter’s sunscreens fit the guidelines listed above and are safe for sensitive skin, children and babies. Not only are they mineral-based but they contain antioxidant-rich California poppy which reinforce the skin’s defense against oxidation that leads to wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Compared to other mineral sunscreens, they blend really well and there is a variety of options to choose from (including travel sizes).

Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30  – Spray on sunscreen utilizing non-aerosol technology! Feels great on your skin and easy to use! Great for wiggly kids or those who like a quick application. (Cody keeps one of these in his golf bag!)

Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 – A favorite water-resistant, non-chalky mineral lotion that feels great on your skin.

Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 30 – This is a must-have! Water-resistant sunscreen stick infused with coco butter to help provide a nice glide-on application. This is a popular item for gym bags, ski bags, backpacks or your car. (We use this frequently on our cheeks!)

Cheers to having safer fun in the sun!

Be sure to check out my Proper Sunscreen Application article for more tips.

Gina Schade

Gina Schade

Gina is a certified health coach and author of The 90/10 Life Cookbook, and director at Beatycounter. She helps her clients create a toxin-free complexion they feel 100% confident in!

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