Here Comes the Sun!

Gary Jones
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The Pros and Cons of Physical and Chemical Sunscreens

It’s that glorious time of year when we say “hello” to longer days, warmer temperatures and more time outdoors.  No matter what part of the country you live, the fact is that today’s sun is not the same sun as it used to be.  With the decreasing ozone layer and increased air pollution, the UV index is at an all-time high.  These factors combined can wreak havoc on your skin and result in premature ageing and skin damage.

While we all know we should avoid getting burned, we don’t always take into consideration the invisible damage that takes place under the surface of the skin, the skin you can’t see.  The problem with this type of damage is that even though it affects the skin you can’t see today, it is causing damage to the skin you will see in the future.

First, it is important to explain exactly why we have an increased need for skin protection during these months of increased sun exposure.  There are several factors that contribute to skin damage.  The most obvious, of course, is the sun.  Less obvious contributors to damage include excessive pollution, reduction in skin hydration and exposure to chemicals such as chlorine, insect repellant, etc.
The sun’s energy travels here via ultraviolet radiation and comes in three types:  UVA, UVB and UVC.  Ultraviolet rays are most intense during the hours of 10 ᴀ.ᴍ. to 4 ᴘ.ᴍ.

UV wavelengths are very small and penetrate our flesh and change the structure of our skin cells.  UVC has the shortest wavelengths and is extremely dangerous.  Fortunately for us, it is completely absorbed by the Earth’s upper atmosphere.  Unfortunately, both UVA and UVB can cause damage to our skin cells and DNA if caution is not taken when exposing our skin to the sun. 

Think of UVA rays as the “aging” rays.

Think of UVB rays as the “burning” rays.

While we all know to avoid a sunburn, we don’t always realize that UVA rays can cause the most dangerous invisible forms of damage.  The trouble with these types of rays is that we don’t always take appropriate precaution from them if we don’t consider ourselves sun-lovers.

Driving in the car or sitting near a window are potential exposures that we don’t often think about.  This is the reason that a daily application of sun protection is necessary to protect the skin.

Here is an interesting fact that I can’t help but share.  Before the Industrial Revolution, most people were farmers and  spent the majority of their time outside, where their skin darkened from exposure to the sun.  Meanwhile, the wealthier upper class stayed mostly indoors, and their pale complexions were considered fashionable. However, this all flip-flopped after the Industrial Revolution. As the working class took on more factory jobs, they spent less time in the sunny outdoors.  The upper class, on the other hand, was spending more time outdoors pursuing sports and leisure activities.  Thus, having tanned skin became symbolic of wealth and prestige.  

Skin color begins down in the deepest level of your epidermis, where special cells called “melanocytes” live.  These melanocytes are cells with many arms that reach up into the upper levels of the skin cells.  Melanocytes make a dark chemical called “melanin.”  Now here’s something interesting: A blond Scandinavian has roughly the same number of melanocytes in their skin as someone of African descent.  What gives the different skin color is the way that a person’s body processes the melanin within the skin.

 Melanin is the body’s own sunscreen, so it makes sense that the darker a person’s skin is, or the easier it is for a person to tan, the more resistant a person is to sun damage.  The lighter a person’s skin, or the easier it is for a person to burn, shows a distinct intolerance to the sun.  Since melanin is the body’s natural sun protection, a freckle is actually a cluster of potentially vulnerable skin cells that have been surrounded by melanin as a means of skin protection.  The more freckles a person has, the more susceptible a person is to skin damage.

It is important to note that tanning beds do not offer a safe alternative to a natural suntan.  The same rays that tan your skin in the sunlight are the same rays that tan your skin in a tanning bed.

So, with that out of the way, let’s discuss the types of sun protection available today.  Sunscreens come in two forms: chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens.

Physical and Chemical Sunscreens: What’s the Difference?

Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin. They are often referred to as physical blockers.

Pros of physical sunscreens:

  • Offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays and is naturally broad spectrum
  • Protects from the sun as soon as it’s applied, no wait needed
  • Lasts longer when in direct UV light
  • Less likely to cause a stinging irritation on the skin, making it better for sensitive skin
  • Better for those with heat-activated skin (like those with rosacea and redness) since it deflects the heat and energy given off by the sun away from the skin
  • Less likely to be pore-clogging, making it ideal for blemish-prone skin types
  • Longer shelf life

Cons of physical sunscreens:

  • Can rub off, sweat off and rinse off easily, meaning more frequent reapplication when outdoors is needed
  • May leave a white-ish cast on the skin, making some formulas incompatible for medium to dark skin tones
  • May be too chalky and opaque for daily use under makeup
  • Can create an occlusive film, which results in increased perspiration during physical activities, and, therefore, causes it to wear off more quickly
  • Can be thicker, which will require more effort to rub in
  • Can cause white drips to show on the skin when sweating
  • Can be less protective if not applied generously and accurately since UV light can get between the sunscreen molecules and get into the skin

Chemical sunscreens contain organic (carbon-based) compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone, which create a chemical reaction and work by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin. They are often referred to as chemical or organic absorbers.

Pros of chemical sunscreens:

  • Tends to be thinner, and, therefore, spreads more easily on the skin, making it more wearable for daily use
  • Less is needed to protect the skin, because there are no spaces between the sunscreen molecules after application
  • Formula is easier to add additional treatment ingredients, such as peptides and enzymes, which offer other skin benefits

Cons of chemical sunscreens:

  • Can possibly cause an increase in existing brown spots and discoloration due to a higher internal skin temperature (Yes, overheated skin can make brown spots worse.)
  • Requires about 20 minutes after application before it begins to work
  • Increased chance of irritation and stinging (especially for those who have dry skin with a damaged moisture barrier) due to the multiple ingredients combined to achieve broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection
  • The higher the SPF (such as formulas of SPF 50 or greater), the higher the risk of irritation for sensitive skin types
  • The protection it offers gets used up more quickly when in direct UV light, so reapplication must be more frequent
  • Increased chance of redness for rosacea-prone skin types, because it changes UV rays into heat, which can exacerbate flushing
  • May clog the pores for oily skin types
  • Can cause stinging if it drips into the eyes from sweat

Gary’s Pick

As someone with sensitive skin and concerned with excessive chemical exposure, I prefer to use products containing physical sun protection.  Recently, a friend introduced me to a product that I am in love with—LBD Sun Protection, available in a formula for men (LBD-Men) and one for women (LBD-Women).  Both contain only four ingredients and offer SPF 50 protection:

  1. Micronized Titanium Dioxide (15%), a non-chemical sun protection
  2. Bismuth Oxychloride, an anti-inflammatory
  3. Zinc Oxide (24%), a non-chemical sun protection
  4. Iron Oxides, source of translucent color

LBD Sun Protection is an all-natural, pure mineral translucent powder sun protection with a convenient brush-on applicator.  It lasts all day without reapplication and provides complete protection from all UVA/UVB infrared rays, which includes the overhead lights in most offices and public facilities. It does not contain any FD&C dyes, oils, fragrances, alcohol, parabens, cornstarch or other chemicals. Soothing and calming, LBD Sun Protection can be used on rash-prone skin, eczema, allergy-prone skin (with a near-zero allergy rate) and sensitive skin. This mineral sun protection keeps the skin naturally cool (even when sitting in the sun) and reduces perspiration, and doesn’t irritate like chemical sunscreens.

Micronized titanium dioxide is the key. It is found naturally in minerals and does not clog pores or dry out the skin.  It allows light to pass through the visible ray region (light that is needed for healthy development of skin) while intercepting the ultraviolet rays.  Micronized titanium dioxide guards against the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays, yet gives the skin a natural looking finish. Research shows micronized titanium dioxide provides a natural barrier to UVA and UVB radiation without irritation, burning or stinging.


To Apply:

  • Remove the cap and turn dial to desired setting
    • Dial 1-3 for light application
    • Dial 4-6 for medium application
    • Dial 7-10 for full coverage
  • Brush lightly all over face
  • Slide up the outside rim and replace cap

Click here for pricing and ordering information.

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