Sunscreen offers the best protection against skin cancer next to staying out of the sun altogether or covering up with sun protective clothing. Applying sunscreen, especially to your face, is something you should do every day, all year long.
“I don’t go a day without wearing sunscreen,” says Penn plastic surgeon, Ivona Percec, MD, PhD. “I tell all my patients that once in the morning is not enough. Your face is the number one thing exposed to the sun. Take care of it.”
What most people don’t realize is that the kind of sunscreen we use is also important.
Chemical sunscreen vs. physical sunscreen
A sunscreen is a compound (or lotion) that uses agents to block, deflect or reflect the sun’s rays. To be effective, we recommend that all sunscreens be liberally applied (at least one ounce for the entire body) to all exposed areas of the body, at least 15 minutes before going outside.
There are two different types of sunscreen: chemical and physical.
Chemical sunscreens use up to a dozen ingredients that, when applied, are absorbed in the top layer of skin. They react with the skin to absorb UV rays and convert them into energy before they can harm the skin.
Chemical sunscreens aren’t as thick as physical ones, so they are often used in sunscreens specifically made for the face as well as those found in spray bottles. Since chemical sunscreens need to be absorbed into the skin, they must be applied at least 20 to 30 minutes before heading outdoors.
Physical sunscreens, sometimes called “natural or mineral” sunscreens, include two ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Together, these ingredients sit on top of the skin and deflect or reflect the sun’s rays.
Think of physical sunscreens like a shield, while chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin. Both ingredients work well to protect from UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) rays. Since physical sunscreens are thicker, they can leave a white cast on the skin.
Powder sunscreens are hot
If you're looking for a sunscreen that doesn't leave the greasy, sticky feeling that lotions sometimes do, powder-based physical sunscreen may be your solution.
Powder sunscreen is mineral-based, so it acts as a shield and doesn’t break down as quickly as chemical sunscreen. Plus, it's easy and convenient to use; you can keep it in your purse or back pack.
The best part: no mess or oily hands and face. It's just like makeup. You sweep the compact brush onto your face, and it’s translucent.
Powder sunscreen is great for young children too. Kids never seem to be able to stand still and always complain about the feeling of having lotion smeared all over them. And unlike a spray which can miss spots or get in kids' eyes, powder can be applied with the quick and soft sweep of a brush.
There are several powder sunscreen products in the market, ranging from drugstore brands to ones you can only purchase through your clinical aesthetician.
Which sunscreen is right for you?
Those with sensitive skin, especially young children, should opt for a physical/mineral sunscreen since those ingredients are milder. Those with darker skin may opt for a chemical sunscreen, since they don’t leave a white cast.
According to Dr. Percec, “A chemical sunscreen really just protects against UB – the burning rays. In two hours that’s degraded by the sun. The mineral block [physical sunscreen] is the much better block because it protects against both UVA and UVP.”
Both types of sunscreen provide adequate protection. Your personal preference may help you decide what type of sunscreen is right for you.