HOW TO CHOOSE THE PERFECT SUNSCREEN

SUNSCREEN 101

Do you wear a physical sunblock or a chemical sunscreen? Do you know the difference? Is your sunscreen harming or helping you? Are all sunscreens the same?

Today we cover the basics of Why, What and How to choose the right sunscreen for Women (and Men) over 40.

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WHY

Your skin is the largest organ of your body. Sun exposure over time may cause sunspots, pigmentation, melanoma, skin wrinkling, loss of elasticity, sagging and stretching, the list goes on… Our 40’s and 50’s is the time damage done by the sun generally begins to become apparent.

The experts have done a fabulous job over the years of telling us that the sun is THE number one factor that causes damage to our skin and we all know we should wear sunscreen when we are in the sun, right? But what about when we are in the shade or indoors? And as a woman in her midlife: over the age of 40, should I be using a particular type of sunscreen?

The answer is yes! – to all of these questions. Let me explain…

There is a myriad of options out there when it comes to sun protection. But different people have different skin types and different needs when it comes to choosing the right sunscreen.  For example, some women (and men) may require a sweat-proof version, while some desire an everyday one for the face, some need a version that won’t interfere with makeup and others want one that won’t clog pores. While some may be looking for one to suit their specific skin type, some may prefer one that blocks the suns rays and doesn’t sink into the skin etc…

In recent years, we have gained new information relating to the damage caused by ‘blue light’ technology. Blue light is what emanates from digital devices, such as computers, tablets, flat-screen TVs, fluorescent light bulbs, and smartphones. Paula’s Choice leading experts state that Long-term blue light exposure to concentrated sources of blue light energy can cause skin damage, including colour changes, inflammation, and weakening of the skin’s surface. Simply put, blue light promotes stressors in the skin that cause photo-aging; that is, aging from exposure to light.

Experts are now encouraging us to protect our skin and eyes from these, as well as from various forms of artificial lighting eg fluorescent lighting.

Below is a guide to assist you in HOW to choose the very best sunscreen option for you, so you can get out and enjoy some of that essential Vitamin D that is so important for us Midlifers, whilst protecting yourself as best you can.

THE BASICS

1. GO FOR BROAD SPECTRUM

  • The term ‘broad spectrum’ or multi-spectrum means that the sunscreen protects your skin from BOTH UVB and UVA radiation. Both affect the skin in different ways.

          -UVA rays cause wrinkles, speed up signs of ageing and are the radiation rays that are believed to be the main cause of long-term skin damage. 

          -UVB rays cause sunburn.

  • Sunscreens that are not broad spectrum only protect against UVB radiation.

2. LOOK FOR AN SPF 50+

In Australia we have very strict guidelines for sunscreen.

SPF stands for sun protection factor and it describes how much UV- ultraviolet light- gets to the skin.

  • Currently, SPF50+ is the highest level of protection offered in Australia.
  • The difference between SPF 50 and 30 according to the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia) is the following:
  • SPF50+ sunscreens offer almost the same level of UVB protection as an SPF30 sunscreen but offer extra UVA protection: As mentioned above UVA rays speed up the signs of ageing.   
  • SPF50+ sunscreens allow 1/50th of ambient UV radiation through but filter out 98% of UVB radiation. 
  • SPF30 sunscreens admit 1/30th of ambient UV radiation but block out 96.7% UVB. 

So, the take-home message is essentially: For a woman ‘of a certain age, in Australia at least, choosing the highest level of SPF will offer more in the way of anti-ageing.

3. IT SHOULD BE WATER RESISTANT

If you are going to sweat or be in water it is essential to look for a water-resistant formula.

4. IT SHOULD BE COMFORTABLE ON THE SKIN & EASY TO USE

Craig Sinclair, head of the Cancer Council’s public health committee in Australia says “It should be a product that feels comfortable because you’re more likely to re-apply it”.

I know myself if it is too thick and leaves too white a cast – ie you look like a ghost – I will likely not use it because it is too hard to reapply and takes too long to ‘settle’ on and disappear into the skin. Yet, I do prefer a mineral base as it is healthier for the skin and for the environment. So, we need to take comfort and ease of use into consideration.

Experts in Dermatology and Sun Protection all seem to agree that these are the necessary basics to consider. The rest is a personal preference for the type and smell etc… 

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ADDITIONAL FACTORS YOU MAY WANT TO CONSIDER

If you are like me, you may want to factor in some additional information when choosing the best sunscreen for yourself. There is a bit of a debate as to whether the sunscreen we are using is not only harmful to us, but also to the marine environment; particularly our beautiful Great Barrier Reef.

In Hawaii they have banned the use of sunscreen containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, ushering in a new era of reef-safe sunscreen. This comes into effect in 2021. Many of our chemical sunscreens contain these coral harming chemicals. So, if you are concerned about the marine environment you may want to consider using a mineral/physical sunblock.

These days I tend to choose my sunblock by selecting the basics above, but then I will take these additional factors below into consideration.

1. Decide which INGREDIENTS you prefer in your sunscreen

There are actually two types of sun protection or ‘sun barrier creams’ for want of a better term.

CHEMICAL SUNSCREEN –

  • These are those formulas that are absorbed INTO the skin and their action is to absorb the suns UV rays, thereby giving protection. 
  • Chemical sunscreens use one or more chemicals including oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, octinoxate and homosalate. 

PHYSICAL SUNBLOCK

  • These formulas sit on top of the skin and act as a physical barrier against the suns rays, preventing them from penetration.
  • They are known as PHYSICAL or MINERAL sunblocks because they contain natural minerals.
  • They include titanium dioxide and zinc oxides as listed ingredients.

You can determine which type of sunscreen is which, by looking at the consistency and packaging. Chemical sunscreens are typically less thick and more transparent, while physical sunblocks will generally be thicker in consistency and list zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide in the ingredients. Physical sunblocks may leave a ‘white-cast’ to the skin.

Some formulas of ‘sun barrier creams’ contain both physical and chemical protection factors.

You may like to avoid certain chemical ingredients like oxybenzone, which, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), can cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones. (This becomes especially important as we go through our peri, post and menopausal years, as certain hormones are naturally decreasing anyway, and are already disrupted, so why would we want to add to that?.) The preservative methylisothiazolinone may also cause issues.

2. Consider your SKIN TYPE

NORMAL, DRY, OILY, SENSITIVE?

FOR NORMAL SKIN
If your skin is neither too oily nor too dry, a lotion or cream-based sunscreen will provide the right amount of hydration that your skin requires without making it look too oily.

FOR DRY SKIN

Many of us as we age, tend to gain a drier skin-type, especially as we enter into menopause. This is largely due to a reduction in particular hormones (see our post on Menopause HERE).

With drier skin, you may prefer a nourishing, more moisturising sunblock formula. A lotion or cream. According to Board-certified dermatologist and skin-cancer surgeon Michael Shapiro, drier skin types should look for complementary ingredients like glycerin, lanolin, oils, silicones (like dimethicone) and aloe.
Avoid sprays and gels laden with alcohol because alcohol has drying effects after repeated use and can cause irritation.

FOR OILY SKIN
Look for lightweight sunscreens (sheer or fluid “gel” lotions) that dry down to a matte finish. Well-formulated, water-based sunscreens with absorbent ingredients like silica or isododecane are ideal.

FOR SENSITIVE, EASILY IRRITATED SKIN

Those with sensitive skin should avoid alcohol-based products and preservatives, as well as anything with fragrance. Look for the words ‘hypoallergenic’, ‘fragrance-free’, ‘dye-free’, ‘non-comedogenic’, ‘paraben-free’. Look for mineral sunblocks that contain zinc or titanium oxide instead of chemicals like para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), dioxybenzone, oxybenzone or sulisobenzone.

ADULT ACNE-PRONE SKIN
Look for gel formulas, which usually contain alcohol, and avoid greasy sunscreens (often marketed as “creams”), since they may exacerbate breakouts. Although people on topical acne medications, which tend to be drying, may find gels too irritating and may benefit from a light lotion or cream base. You can also try using a mineral sunscreen—with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient—because this sits on top of the skin rather than being absorbed, so your skin is less likely to react. Also, make sure that the label says “oil-free” and “non-comedogenic.”

3. Choose a sunscreen that you find COSMETICALLY ELEGANT so you will wear it

Now, I first heard these words from a leading Dermatologist here in Brisbane, Dr Davin Lim, and my first thoughts were ‘Boy, you are so right!’ We have touched on this above. By this, he means comfort; how it feels on the skin and ease of use.

I mean, you’ve chosen your sunscreen, run through all the right ingredients, chosen one that is broad-spectrum, 50+, it suits your skin type, is great for the environment etc.. It ticks all the boxes. You put it on and Bam! You hate the consistency or it’s too white or too thick. The smell – pew! You look like a ghost. Or you dislike how it sits on the skin… Right off the bat, you know you will never wear it again.

Or, some sunscreens may contain added ‘perks’. Think shimmer, tint, or a lovely smell that you just fall in love with. (I know I love the smell of this Neutrogena one, it resonates ‘summer vibes’ and reminds me of my happy childhood). For many, this may make all the difference in your choice of sunscreen.

For all of us over the age of 40, we also want to look for a formula that not only blocks the sun’s harmful rays but can help in repairing damage already caused. For this, you will want to include a combination of antioxidants and peptides.

4. Consider your choice of sunscreen by TYPE OF APPLICATION

This could also be considered ‘cosmetic elegance’ of the product.

The following is taken from Choice magazine article by Karina Bray

  • Lotions and milks. The majority of sunscreens on the market come in the form of milks and lotions. These have the advantage of being cheap, easy to apply and non-drying. However, they may leave your skin feeling sticky or greasy.
  • Creams. Many sunscreens come in both a cream and lotion (or milk) form, where the ingredients are the same but the consistency differs – creams tend to be thicker, and come in a tube, rather than a bottle.
  • Gels. These are alcohol-based, so won’t leave your skin feeling sticky or greasy, although may have a drying effect. They may be more comfortable if you have a lot of body hair.
  • Sprays. These are alcohol-based, so they’re non-greasy but may dry your skin. They’re easy to apply and great for hairy bodies – but make sure you use enough.
  • Roll-ons. They’re easy to apply to small areas, but difficult to apply evenly over a larger area. They’re also portable and handy to keep in your bag.
  • Sticks. A sunscreen stick is probably only useful for small areas like the face. It’s dry and therefore mess-free (although it’s sticky when it’s on), and compact enough to keep handy in your bag.

5. Learn how to use sunscreen in your daily skincare routine

When applying sunscreen to your face, neck and ears, it should always be applied after your ‘actives’ (serums, antioxidants etc…) and moisturiser, and before your makeup. See our blog HERE about the perfect skincare regimen for over 40. When used correctly, all your skincare should work for you.

If you wear makeup on a daily basis, you want a sunscreen that plays well with the makeup you are currently wearing. This may mean some tweaking and playing around with different formulas to make it all work.

Some makeup foundations are 2-in-1 formulas, where they provide a gorgeous base as well as 50+ and even offer added skincare benefits. While some very effective SPF’s can also double as a base and/or moisturiser.

6. Sunscreen should ALWAYS be a secondary defence

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “No sunscreen can block 100 per cent of the sun’s rays”. This then, hi-lights the need for the physical barrier of clothing first and foremost as a first defence. That means good quality clothing, hats to protect the skin and sunglasses to protect the eyes when out in the sun is always our first line of defence.

My advice is stick to the basics and go from there. Then, it’s all about priorities and what is important to you.

Stay tuned for a future post about HOW MUCH SUNSCREEN YOU SHOULD APPLY ON THE DAILY & OUR TOP TIPS FOR APPLICATION.

How to find the perfect sunscreen
I am a skincare junkie and these are some in my current stash of sunscreens I personally love

Pictured above: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Tinted BB cream, La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-light fluid both for sensitive skin, Neutrogena Sheer Zinc for sensitive skin, Results skin Active protect 50+ daily protective moisturising cream, DMK Protect moisturising cream Note: There are a few others that I love also, but they will be coming soon.

4 thoughts on “HOW TO CHOOSE THE PERFECT SUNSCREEN”

  1. There is so much to think about when it comes to sunscreen! Thanks for doing the research. My younger sister has survived melanoma, including a recurrence in her lymph nodes almost 10 years ago now. Since her original diagnosis, I have been particularly careful about protecting my skin and having regular check-ups. I was not always so wise. 🙂 In high school, we used to slather ourselves in baby oil and lie in the sun for hours. My current sunscreen challenge is choosing between chemical sunscreen (which I prefer in terms of comfort and ease) and mineral sunscreen (which I understand is better for the environment). We’re leaving next week for a beach vacation. I’m going to bring along a tube of mineral sunscreen, but I’ll also have may usual brand as a back-up, just in case.

    1. Hi Christie, I grew up on the Gold Coast where we sunbaked weekly and also slathered myself in baby oil or reef oil. Little did we know back then how it would affect us in Midlife! But we can certainly help ourselves now and teach others. I too prefer a chemical for ease of use, however, I have recently been using Elta MD UV physical SPF 41 which is chemical free. I would have put it in the post, but it was quite new to me at the time I wrote it and I was still testing it out. (I buy it from strawberry net) and plays so well under makeup and does not leave any white cast and is weightless, I love it). Have a great day!😁

  2. Thank you for this well-researched, highly informative article. I asked my dermatolgist (who I swear, by the way, is 12) what is the best sunscreen for me to use. Her simple advice was two-fold. 1) Wear at least a 50+. 2) Buy whichever sunscreen you like so that you will use it regularly. Actually, I was looking for a bit more information than that — which you have brilliantly answered. Great post! #MLSTL

    1. Thanks Donna, while she is absolutely right, often they haven’t got the time to go into detail, which is a real shame as you would think they would love to educate their patients. Have a terrific day:)

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