Summer hits and it’s time to up the sunscreen application. The hordes of people with lobster-red patches and painful looking day-glo stripes remind us why it’s important!
I haven’t written about sunscreen in a while – in fact, it was only a comment from a reader that made me realize just how long it had been. So it seemed about time for an update on some new sunscreens I’ve been using.
I haven’t changed my opinion on the sunscreens I feel safest using. To find out more about the research I did to arrive at my decision, read this. But in a nutshell, I opt for (non-nano) physical sunscreens over chemical ones, preferring to get my protection from barrier ingredients like zinc oxide (in the first instance, because it offers broader spectrum protection against UVA) or titanium dioxide, rather than common chemical ingredients such as octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, octisalate or avobenzone.
I won’t lie. Even two years on, chemical ingredients still feel nicer on the skin and even the best physical sunscreens can still leave that pasty white cast. But I prefer to go with the ‘where there’s smoke, there’s probably fire’ approach. If there are concerns about an ingredient, I’ll try to avoid it. If we don’t yet know whether nano particles can penetrate the skin and cause harm, I’ll avoid them. If we don’t yet know whether chemical ingredients like avobenzone and octocrylene (the ones most commonly cited in studies) can bio-accumulate (build up in the body) and act as hormone disruptors, ditto.
So here are just a few things I have been using:
Green People Scent-Free Sun Lotion SPF25 (available from Green People’s website, Amazon, Waitrose and Planet Organic, priced at about £17.95 for 200ml)
This was an impulse purchase because it was the only physical sunscreen available in Waitrose on a flash visit a couple of days before a beachy week in Devon (with 28+ degrees being forecast). Green People were on my ‘to try’ list and it’s really good.
I spotted a new ingredient on the list –Isoamyl p-methoxycinnamate – which I’d never heard of before. Apparently, it’s an organic compound that absorbs and scatters UV light, protecting the skin but also stabilizing the sunscreen and preventing it from breaking down too quickly. It’s rated 0 for risk on the EWG website “Skin Deep”; admittedly based on more limited data. The other UV filter is titanium dioxide, which gives good protection against UVB light (the burner) and ok protection against UVA (the ager).
It’s easy to apply and leaves only the slightest of white casts, which fades away to almost nothing as you rub it in. If you’ve got drier skin, you’ll probably want to layer this over a body moisturizer as it’s not terribly hydrating on its own.
I only used this on my body, not on my face. I’m not really one for being told how to apply something and most sunscreens marketed as ‘body products’ can be used on the face as well. But I was testing other things so just never tried it. I bet it’d be fine.
This definitely kept me from burning but, at SPF25, don’t go nuts.
Original Sprout Face and Body Sunscreen, SPF24+ (priced at £12.99 for 118ml)
I think this has been my favourite of the bunch. It smells divine – like tropical flowers – and is a little more moisturizing than the Green People sunscreen. The only active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, it contains some good hydrators and it avoids many potential skin sensitisers.
It has a slight tendency to roll up into those little ‘pills’ on application but this is more pronounced if the skin is dry. I usually apply it immediately after showering (or cleansing my face) and then it’s usually pill-free. If the little pills do start forming, you can usually just rub them back in. Just means you have to be a bit more persistent!
The biggest con though is availability. I bought a bottle in John Lewis’ Reading store and had I known then how much I’d like it, I’d have bought a few. It’s not there anymore and it’s really hard to find online. Most sites list it as out of stock, which means it’s either really popular or being discontinued. At the moment, a small company in Jersey, Health Monthly, are stocking it at a slight discount. *Takes off detective hat*
I really like Melvita as a brand and have loved all other products I’ve tried. This didn’t quite do it for me but I’m still all conflicted about it. It felt by far the most gentle on my face. It made my skin feel more hydrated, less sensitive after sun exposure and generally better cared for. BUT…it made me look SO pale that anyone passing shortly after application would think I’d had some kind of profound shock. And that white cast just didn’t rub in enough. I used it on a sunny holiday in the peak district in June and I can’t argue with how well it protected my skin but it turns out I’m just too vain to use it on a regular basis. Halfway up a peak surrounded only by sheep? No problem. Sat at my desk surrounded by work colleagues? Not so much.
To be fair, the white effect wore off gradually for the first hour or so after applying but that’s pretty slow in comparison with other products. The only way I got it to work immediately was to balance out the white cast with a cream bronzer, but you’ve got to be really careful to avoid the neck tidemark.
Clinique Super City Block SPF25/40 (Available from Clinique’s website and at Boots. Priced at £17 for 40ml)
A tricky one with some unanswered questions… I read online that these were mineral sunscreens and bought the SPF40 one. However, a quick check of the ingredients on the packaging revealed that it’s a blend of both mineral and chemical ingredients. Further research suggests that the SPF40 is a blend but the SPF25 is mineral only. However, Clinique don’t post their ingredients online and I haven’t had a chance to check in a store. What is this all about Clinique? Does anyone know whether the SPF25 is mineral only?
If it is, I’d happily try it because the SPF40 City Block is nice to use. It isn’t too heavy, has a slight tint and left my skin feeling smooth, even and well-protected. If you don’t wear a lot of make-up or opt for tinted moisturisers over foundation, you’ll probably find this is sufficient without any extra coverage. However, drier skins will want a moisturizer underneath as the oil-free formula might not be hydrating enough on its own.
Other brands on my ‘must try sunscreens’ list are Badger, Skinceuticals, Korres, Jason and Lovea. Anyone got any recommendations? If so, please do share them in the comments. I’d love some help in narrowing down the list!
And to close, a few points to remember about staying safe in the sun:
- Always in moderation. Sunscreen doesn’t give you license to bake. Ironically, studies indicate that incidences of skin cancer continue to rise despite the growth of ever more sophisticated sunscreens. This isn’t because they don’t work. It’s more likely to be because people regard themselves as protected once applied, and stay out in strong sunlight for far longer than they should (or would otherwise) have done. Even if you’ve applied sunscreen, limit your exposure to strong sunlight and seek shade between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its fiercest.
- Apply in time. And reapply. Physical sunscreens offer instant protection on application but if you do want to use chemical formulas, remember that you need to apply 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow them to absorb and be effective. And ALL sunscreens need regular reapplying. If you haven’t been swimming, sweating or rolling in sand, every couple of hours is probably fine. But if you get wet, reapply afterwards. Remember that ‘water resistant’ is not ‘water proof’.
- Apply enough. The SPF rating on the bottle is only true if you apply enough product. Opt for a blob the size of a 50 pence piece to cover your face and neck. This is why make-up rarely offers adequate sun protection on its own. If we applied the correct amount we’d all look a bit too ‘trowelled on’!
- Avoid unexpected pink bits. The best way to avoid those painful little strips along the edge of your clothing or swimsuit is too apply sunscreen while you’re completely in the buff. Then get dressed. This is also recommended because not all clothing is created equal when it comes to UV protection. Dark, closely-woven fabrics offer better protection so it is possible to burn through some of our lighter, floatier summer clothes and it’s better to have some sunscreen on underneath.
- Don’t forget the oft-forgotten bits. Like your ears, the backs of your hands and the tops of your feet. And one of my worst experiences was burning the parting in my hair. Not only did it hurt when brushing but it then peeled, leaving me with some quite ferocious looking dandruff. You’d be better off brushing your hair over your parting, smoothing through some sunscreen (for a wet-look effect) and tying it back in a pony tail. But don’t then forget the back of your neck.
- Don’t be sucked in by SPF50+. There is no point in using a sunscreen with a rating above SPF50. The difference in the level of protection offered is actually minimal and it can lull you into a false sense of security about the amount of time you can spend in the sun. I usually use SPF25, 30 or 50 and base my decision on how much time to spend in the sun on other factors, like what I’m wearing, what time it is and how strong the sun is that day.
- Get your vitamin D. There’s been a lot of debate about the rise in the use of sunscreens leading to an increase in vitamin D deficiency. There’s probably something in that, but the truth is that we’re probably all vitamin D deficient for much of the year anyway thanks to the weather and poor diet. To get your vitamin D quota, you only need 10-15 minutes of gentle (i.e. not midday scorching) sun exposure. Then cover up. In the winter months, I usually take a vitamin D supplement.
- If in doubt, check it out. Be aware of your skin and keep an eye out for changes. If you notice anything unusual, visit your GP. Look out for moles that change colour or shape, or become itchy, scabbed, crusty or bleed. And don’t forget areas that you don’t see very often, like your back or the back of your legs. Taking pictures for future comparison can be very helpful.
Have fun in the sun, you guys, but don’t forget to look after your skin!