What You Need to Know About Sunscreen (as told by a common skin paranoiac)

OK, let me tell you something. Sunscreen? I hate the stuff. I hate the texture. I hate the smell. I hate how it separates in heat and then suddenly you are standing there like an idiot with a handful of disgusting yellow oil with the occasional blob of white. But I am also terrified of skin cancer and aging. And sunscreen? It helps with both of those things.

For most of you, this probably isn’t news to you. Yes, sun exposure causes wrinkles and melanoma and blah blah blah. So you wear sunscreen. Big deal. But there is more to the story.

I should probably start off by explaining a bit about sun exposure. The type of light that causes damage is called ultraviolet (UV) light. There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC is fairly irrelevant when talking about sun damage, as the rays are filtered out by the ozone layer. That leaves UVA and UVB. UVB rays are much stronger than UVA rays, so for a long time only UVB rays were considered as a serious cause of skin cancer and other skin woes. The SPF rating that we see on sunscreen is an indicator of how much of these rays the particular sunscreen blocks. However, there is increasing evidence to show that UVA rays, the weaker but more prevalent rays, actually can do quite a bit of damage themselves. Unfortunately, the SPF factor does not take the UVA rays into account. What this means is that if you live in the States, you have to check the sunscreens that you buy to see if they offer any UVA protection. Sunscreen with UVA protection is available; you might just have to hunt around a bit. The ones that do normally say on the label. A list of sunscreens with UVA protection will be provided below. It’s also possible that the sunscreen does have some protection in it, but doesn’t say. In that case you can check the ingredients list for UVA blocking ingredients. Again, a list of ingredients will be provided below. If you live in Europe then you can relax, sunscreens contain these ingredients by default.

There is also the matter of sun protection in moisturizers, foundations, lip balms, etc. Using these products is great, don’t get me wrong. A little bit extra sun protection is certainly not going to hurt. But that should not be the only thing you use. These products are even less likely to have UVA protection than normal sunscreens. Also, you typically would not use enough of the product to enjoy its full benefit. Even if a foundation has SPF 10, if you use a thin coat of it then in reality you might only be getting an SPF of 5.

Another thing to worry about when choosing sunscreen is the other stuff in it. Oxybenzone, a chemical used to absorb UV rays, is FDA and American Academy of Dermatology approved. However, there may be a link between this chemical and hormone disruption and skin cancer. Retinyl palmate is also potentially toxic. I will include a link below for the 2012 Sunscreen Guide from the Environmental Working Group, which evaluates sunscreens on their potential harmfulness.

On the other side, there is Vitamin D to worry about. Vitamin D is a vitamin made by your body when it comes in contact to UVB. It is essential to the body, and cannot really be found in foods. A deficiency of Vitamin D can also cause many medical conditions, and getting enough Vitamin D can decrease the risk of  things like osteoporosis, heart attacks and heart attacks, and various cancers. Because sunscreen blocks UVB, Vitamin D cannot be produced whilst the person is wearing it. The Cancer Council of Australia recommends that people not wear sun protection in the winter, when the sun’s rays are not so intense (under UV Index 3), and a few minutes each day in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon are sufficient if the UV Index is over 3, like in the summer. Darker skin tones may need anywhere from 3-6 times this amount. In the summer around midday, nobody, regardless of their skin tone, should go out without sun protection.

Hope you all are well, and WEAR SUNSCREEN!


Here are the various lists, as promised.


Sunscreens with UVA Protection:

Burt’s Bees Sunscreen (SPF 15/30)

Nivea Sun Moisturizing Sun Lotion (SPF 15/20/30)

W.S. Badger All-Natural Unscented Face and Body Sunscreen (SPF 30)

Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunblock (SPF 30)

(or any Alba Botanica sunscreen)

Clarins UV Plus Protective Day Screen (SPF 40)

(Or any Clarins sunscreen)


Moisturizers with UVA Protection:

The Body Shop Vitamin E Moisture Lotion (SPF15)

Laura Mercier Repair Day Cream (SPF 15)

Laura Mercier Mega-Moisture Cream (SPF 15)

Boots Vitamin E Moisture Lotion (SPF 15)

Yes To Blueberries Age Refresh Daily Facial Moisturizer (SPF 30)

Yes To Cucumbers Soothing Daily Calming Moisturizer (SPF 30)


UVA Blocking/Absorbing Ingredients:



Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX)

Meradimate (Menthyl Anthranilate)



Titanium Dioxide

Zinc Oxide












3 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Sunscreen (as told by a common skin paranoiac)

  1. It is difficult to get knowledgeable folks on this subject, but the truth is be understood as what happens you are preaching about! Thanks 75840

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