BY MEGAN GILLES           

Let’s talk sunscreen shall we? I know it’s not the sexiest of topics, but neither is skin cancer or wrinkles. We live in Denver, are a mile closer to the sun, and lucky enough to have 300 days of sunshine. Reality: sunscreen should be a part of our daily routine, 12 months out of the year. But with so many misconceptions surrounding best practices with sunscreen and all the products out there, what do we wear?

Here’s Sunscreen 101.

UVA vs. UVB Rays

Do you know the difference? When we go outside we are affected by different UV rays the sun sends to earth. These rays contain all different strengths, and are known respectively as UVB and UVA. 95% of the rays from the sun that reach the earth are UVA rays. UVA rays penetrate deep tissue and are one of the leading causes of aging our skin. Whereas, UVB rays are the ‘sun burn’ rays and affect the outer layers of skin. The one thing they have in common? They both cause skin cancer. What most of us don’t realize is the majority of sunscreens on the market focus on UVB and just a small amount of protection from UVA. We have been taught to ask “what’s the SPF?” when in reality, SPF only pertains to protecting you from UVB rays. This is why you always want to seek out a “broad spectrum” sunscreen and then take a look at the ingredients. If you’re one of those folks who claims they are “never outside” and don’t need sunscreen, I’m going to have to stop you right there. You get just as many UVA rays on a cloudy day as a sunny day, and windows only block from UVB not UVA. (google “Truck Driver Sun Damage” for a visual). We don’t even have time to talk about protecting from HEV light produced from electronic screens, we’ll save that for another day.

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen

A chemical sunscreen is typically what you find in grocery stores, ie, Coppertone, Neutorgena, plus some of the higher end skin care with sunscreen etc. How they work, is the chemical sunscreen ingredients need to penetrate into the skin. When skin is exposed to UV rays, the chemical ingredients (like avobenzone and oxybenzone) absorb the sun’s UV radiation, and dissipates it as heat. Layman’s terms – they break down the UV rays. These ingredients only have the ability to work roughly 2 -3 hours. This is why you have to reapply as directed, otherwise you no longer have on protection. A couple things to remember if you choose to wear a chemical sunscreen. Since the ingredients start to “turn on” and work when exposed to UV rays/heat, if you have left a chemical sunscreen in the hot sun, it most likely started to break down inside the bottle and may not be providing you the protection you need. And PLEASE throw out expired products, these man-made chemicals only last as long as their expiration date claims on the outside of the container.

Physical sunscreens on the other hand, contain mineral based ingredients like zinc and titanium. A physical sunscreen works by reflecting or scattering UV radiation away from your skin. Think of wearing a physical sunscreen like opening an umbrella, light is deflected away. These ingredients are proven to provide greater protection from UVB rays and especially harmful UVA rays as they cover more of the sun’s UV spectrum than man made chemical ingredients can.

Bottom line, your best form of protection against skin cancer and aging is wearing a physical sunscreen daily. Ideally you want to look for mineral ingredients of at least 5% zinc. SPF is still important, so look to wear an SPF 30 or higher. EltaMD and Beautycounter both offer sheer physical sunscreens that rub in well and avoid the “ghost face” look (as my neighbor’s kids like to call it) and are reasonably priced. EltaMD can be found at your local dermatologist’s office and authorized on line sellers, as well as right here in Wash Park at Rejuv. There are several reps in our neighborhood who sell Beautycounter, so chances are you already have a friend selling the goods!

1 in 5 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer yearly and most of us would like to slow down the aging process. So please, find yourself a physical sunscreen and wear it every single day. Combine it with a hat and sunglasses, your future self will thank you!