Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Sun Smarts: Why Sunscreen is Vital

Mar 30, 2016 02:00PM ● By Becca Newell
By Becca Newell

Sunscreen application is an essential part of one’s daily skincare routine. If you’re not applying moisturizer with SPF every morning, start now. And if you’re outside on a regular basis, consistent sunscreen application is crucial. Simply put, it could be the difference between healthy skin and cancer.

“About 90 percent of all skin cancers are associated with exposure to the sun’s harmful radiation,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. “Sunscreen is one of the key strategies that helps prevent excessive exposure.”

Here, we break down the details to help you determine your best defense from the sun.

Words to Know

Broad-Spectrum - Sunscreen labeled as broad spectrum, or full spectrum, is designed to protect against both UVA rays—those that can penetrate glass, including car windows, and lead to wrinkles and other signs of aging—and UVB rays—those that damage the surface of the skin and cause sunburn. Studies suggest both can cause skin cancer.

SPF - The Sun Protection Factor measures how well the product blocks UVB rays—hence, the importance of selecting a broad spectrum sunscreen for complete UV defense. The number is calculated based on its level of protection. For example, an SPF 15 product enables users to remain in the sun without burning for 15 times longer than they could if they weren’t wearing sunscreen. Although many products boast SPFs of 55 and greater, there isn’t enough scientific evidence yet to suggest that it offers any greater protection than that of SPF 50. The FDA has proposed a regulation to limit sunscreen labeling to “SPF 50+” for any products claiming to have a higher level than 50.

Water-Resistant - Any sunscreen labeled as “water-resistant” has either “40” or “80” printed next to it, indicating the length of time—40 minutes or 80 minutes, respectively—the SPF level is effective while swimming or sweating. In 2012, the FDA banned manufacturers from labeling sunscreen as “waterproof” or “sweatproof.”

Sunscreen Mist – Spray application may be convenient, but some consumer feedback suggest users opt for lotion or cream formulas instead since mists make it difficult to tell if skin is appropriately covered and lung irritation can be an issue if the spray is unintentionally inhaled. The FDA is currently reviewing data to establish the effectiveness of mists and to determine any safety concerns regarding inhalation of these products.

Does Sunscreen Expire?

Sunscreen should maintain its original strength for up to three years after purchase. Write the purchase date (month and year) on the bottle in permanent marker if a printed expiration date isn’t visible. And be sure to store sunscreen in a cool place when not in use.

Face Versus Body Sunscreen

Facial sunscreens are not only formulated to better protect delicate facial skin from the effects of sun-induced aging, but they are less likely to cause irritation and trigger acne. This is especially true for sunscreen mists, which contain a high amount of alcohol, likely to leave skin dry and aggravated.

Ingredients in Sunscreen

There are currently 17 active ingredients approved by the FDA that fall into one of two categories: physical and chemical. Physical blockers sit on the skin’s surface to reflect UV rays, whereas chemical substances are absorbed by the skin, degrading sunlight upon contact. Many formulas combine multiple ingredients for maximum protection. Below are a few commonly seen on labels that received a low hazard rating by the Environmental Working Group.

Zinc Oxide - This physical blocking agent reflects both UVA and UVB rays. While it does occur naturally as a mineral (Zincite), Zinc Oxide is more often produced synthetically. Frequently used in the beauty industry to sooth chapped skin and other minor skin irritations, it is one of the most protective broad-spectrum ingredients, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) - The most recently approved ingredient by the FDA (in 2006), this chemical sunblock protects against UVA2 rays. Patented by L’Oreal in 1982—and only available in L’Oreal products—this synthetic agent is often found in Anthelios SX, a board-spectrum sunscreen.

Titanium Dioxide - This non-irritating and non-allergenic physical blocking agent is derived from titanium, a white, chalky mineral, and protects against UVB and UVA2 rays by reflecting ultraviolet light. The FDA lists Titanium Dioxide as one of the most effective active ingredients in sunscreen.

Avobenzone - This chemical blocker introduced in the early ‘90s offers complete protection of the UVA1 range and some absorption of UV2 wavelengths. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, Avobenzon is currently the best UVA1 filter in the country.

SPF Protection %

  • SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 blocks about 98% of UVB rays

Smart Sun Behavior

Dr. Katina Miles, of Skin Oasis Dermatology in Gambrills, gives her top three tips for staying smart in the sun:

1.  At least 30 minutes before going outside apply sunscreen to exposed areas.

2.  Be sure to coat skin with an even film of sunscreen. On average, a shot glass-full of sunscreen is enough. However, this may need to be adjusted depending on body size and the amount of exposed skin.

3.  If you’re outside for a considerable amount of time, be sure to reapply.

Sun Protection Products


Daily Repair Complex by Senté
$130 / 1 Fl. Oz.

A complete age management day cream that hydrates skin while providing UVA/UVB protection to help prevent sun damage. The non-greasy formula boosts skin’s radiance while smoothing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles to decrease the appearance of aging skin.

Mineral Makeup with SPF

Sunforgettable® Mineral Sunscreen Brush by Colorescience
$57 / 0.21 Oz.
Sullivan Integrated Aesthetic Center, Annapolis

This highly refined mineral formula boasts broad-spectrum protection and a hint of color (or you can even opt for a hue with some shimmer, if a little glitz fits your preference!) It’s easy to apply, too! A simple touch of a button dispenses powder onto the brush making daily application a breeze. And depending on usage, one brush should last about 90 days!


Ultimate Sun Protection Spray by Shiseido
$36 / 5 Fl. Oz.

A light, non-sticky sunscreen with a spray applicator that makes it easy to spritz onto the scalp. The water-resistant formula also contains Xylitol, a naturally occurring compound that’s thought to boost skin’s natural moisture and collagen production. Appropriate for use on the entire body, the design even allows for upside-down spraying of any hard-to-reach areas!


Sport Sunscreen by Juice Beauty
$16 / 3.75 Fl. Oz.

A chemical-free, broad-spectrum lotion protects from sun exposure via mineral zinc oxide, with a blend of organic coconut, aloe, and jojoba to provide antioxidant-rich hydration. The water-resistant formula is also free of parabens, petroleum, propylene or butylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfates, pesticides, phthalates, and artificial dyes or synthetic fragrances, and isn’t tested on animals.