Three Things to Consider When Shopping for Sunscreen

By Dr. Linda Miles, D.O.M., chief formulator and co-founder of derma e® Natural Skincare.

With summer fast approaching, it’s time to get to the store for new sunscreen.  With so many types on the market, what should we be looking for when purchasing sunscreens?  What are “natural” sunscreens – and how are they better for us?  Dr. Linda Miles, D.O.M., chief formulator and co-founder of derma e® Natural Skincare outlines important information about traditional/physical sunscreens and antioxidants in sunscreen from her broad research in UVA/UVB protection and an anti-aging antioxidant defense:

In the natural community, Zinc Oxide is considered the gold standard of sun protection. Unlike traditional chemical sunscreens that protect by absorbing UV rays, Zinc Oxide is a physical mineral sunscreen that protects by deflecting UV rays.

There are currently 17 ingredients approved by the FDA for use as sunscreens, and of the 17, only two are mineral-based sunscreens – Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. The other 15 are considered ‘chemical’ sunscreens. When comparing Zinc Oxide to Titanium Dioxide, we discover that both are effective at protecting against the UVB (burning) rays that damage the surface of the skin, but Zinc Oxide is more effective than Titanium Dioxide at protecting against the UVA (aging) rays that penetrate and damage deeper layers of the skin.

Use sunscreen that is RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS
Antioxidants are key to defending the body against oxidative reactive species, or free radical damage. Numerous studies have proven their benefit against cellular DNA damage caused by UV light, radiation, pollution and inflammation. I’ve been a long-standing advocate of using skin care rich in antioxidants as an extra layer of defense against sun and environmental damage. Antioxidants have also been proven to help skin recover after sun exposure.

Despite Zinc Oxide’s plusses as a sunscreen agent, its physical attributes are typically considered minuses. People often associate Zinc Oxide sun care with a white pasty appearance and a thick, heavy feel. Most chemical sunscreens, by contrast, look invisible on skin and feel much lighter weight, which is why they have excelled in popularity versus Zinc Oxide.

Given the escalating health and safety concerns over use of chemical sunscreen ingredients, manufacturers have strived to improve the aesthetics of Zinc Oxide to reduce the heavy, whitening effect. Innovation led to the development and use of Zinc Oxide nanoparticles, where Zinc Oxide is ground down to a powder so fine that the average particle size is under 100nm wide.

As can be expected, significant controversy has since emerged regarding the human and eco safety of using nanoparticles. Over 400 studies have proven that topical use of Zinc Oxide nanoparticles in lotion or cream form is safe for human use, however Zinc Oxide nanoparticles in skin care powders and sprays are not recommended due to likelihood of inhalation.

Additionally, significant concerns remain regarding the risk of nanoparticles washing off into the environment. Early studies have shown dramatic negative impact to aquatic life even at very small levels. That is why I strongly suggest that consumers avoid purchasing and using products containing nanoparticles. There is just not enough known on the long-term impact it may be causing the ecosystem.

The good news is that technology and quality control now enable Zinc Oxide to be delivered in highly micronized form without grinding down to nanoparticle levels. That means you can find natural Zinc Oxide sunscreens that are both nanoparticle free and beautifully sheer on skin.