How to Choose Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin

Choosing the right sunscreen for sensitive skin is vital in order to prevent flare ups for those prone to sensitivities and allergies. Sensitive skin becomes easily irritated and sun protection is important to help prevent flare-ups. Sunscreens are widely recommended by dermatologists to help protect skin from harmful UV rays. On store shelves, you may find numerous different brands of sunscreens.

Typically, sunscreens may contain one or more active ingredients to block the sun's UV rays. They may also contain fragrances, preservatives, lanolin and other harsh ingredients that can cause irritation to sensitive skin, including contact allergic dermatitis. This is why it's strongly recommended to choose a gentle, yet effective sunscreen whether you have sensitive skin or not.

Why You Need Sunscreen

Basking in the sun feels wonderful, as it warms our body with infra-red light. The sun's rays also generate ultraviolet light that cannot be seen, but does get absorbed into our skin and can be harmful. Here are 7 reasons why you need sunscreen:

  1. Prevent Sunburn: Sunscreen helps prevent sunburn by absorbing or reflecting the UV rays that reach your skin. Sunburn is not only painful but also damages the outer layer of the skin that may lead to skin cancer.

  2. Helps Reduce Risk of Skin Cancer: Prolonged and frequent exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Sunscreen, when used properly, can provide protection and significantly reduce this risk.

  3. Prevents Premature Aging: UV rays accelerate the aging of the skin. Sunscreen protects against photoaging, such as wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots, helping to keep your skin looking younger for a longer time.

  4. Protects from Harmful UV Rays: The sun emits two types of harmful UV rays – UVA and UVB. UVA rays contribute to premature aging, while UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn. Sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection shields your skin from both types of UV rays.

  5. Maintains Even Skin Tone: Uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation is often caused by sun exposure. Sunscreen can keep an even skin tone and also help fade existing dark spots.

  6. Protection on Cloudy Days: On cloudy days, you are exposed to the risk of sun damage since UV rays can penetrate clouds. Wearing sunscreen daily, regardless of the weather, is recommended by dermatologists and cancer specialists.

  7. Prevents Eye Damage: Sunscreen around the eyes, or wearing sunglasses with UV protection, can help prevent damage to the delicate skin around the eyes and reduce the risk of cataracts.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays:

  • UVB - Only small amounts are needed on your skin to make Vitamin D. It's estimated you only need 5 minutes of midday summer sun in shorts and t-shirt without sunscreen to make the needed amount of Vitamin D (DermNet). Long exposure to UVB may cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancers.
    • UVB rays have shorter wavelengths than UVA rays.
    • They are responsible for causing sunburn and are a primary factor in the development of skin cancer.
    • UVB rays do not penetrate the skin as deeply as UVA rays but are more energetic.
    • These rays play a key role in the synthesis of vitamin D in the skin, but excessive exposure can lead to harmful effects.

  • UVA - Due to their longer wavelength, UVA penetrates the skin and may cause burning as well as bring about premature aging and risk of skin cancers. 
    • UVA rays have the longest wavelength among UV rays.
    • They are present in sunlight and are the most abundant type of UV radiation reaching the Earth's surface.
    • UVA rays can penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays.
    • Exposure to UVA rays is associated with skin aging, as they contribute to the formation of wrinkles and premature aging of the skin.
    • UVA rays are also linked to the development of skin cancer, although to a lesser extent than UVB rays.
uva and uvb rays

Scientists used to report damage only with UVB and cancer, but now suspect UVA as well. UVA has also been called the aging rays, while UVB rays are the sun's burning rays. Using sunscreen is one important way to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun. Other measures are recommended for better protection, including wearing a hat and other sun protection clothing.

Sun protection factor (SPF) tells us how long we can be exposed to UVB before burning, versus using no sunscreen. For example, an SPF 15 would give us 150 minutes before we burn, while burning after 10 minutes without a sunscreen (150/10). The difference between sunscreen SPF 15 to one with SPF 30 or 50 and above, differs only by 3-4%.

Dermatologists agree to get protection against UVB, up to SPF 30 is sufficient. What is more important is to limit exposure and apply the sunscreen frequently. To get protection from UVA, you need to look for a sunscreen that makes a statement on the label that it is "broad spectrum". To get protection for both UVA and UVB, choose a sunscreen that lists at least one of the following:

How to Choose the Right Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin

Sunscreen ingredients depend on various factors, including individual skin types and sensitivities. However, some general guidelines can help you identify better and safer sunscreen ingredients. Choose a brand free of fragrance, parabens and other common irritants.

Best and Safe Sunscreen Ingredients:

Zinc Oxide: A physical blocker that provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. It is considered safe and suitable for sensitive skin.

Titanium Dioxide: Another physical blocker that protects against UVA and UVB rays. It is generally well-tolerated.

Worst Sunscreen Ingredients:
  1. Oxybenzone: A chemical filter that has been associated with hormone disruption. It has raised concerns about its potential impact on coral reefs.

  2. Octinoxate: Similar to oxybenzone, octinoxate is another chemical filter with potential hormone-disrupting properties. It has also been found to be harmful to coral reefs.

  3. Homosalate: This chemical filter has been associated with hormone disruption, and its safety is a subject of ongoing research.

  4. Octocrylene: While considered safe for most people, some individuals may experience skin sensitivity or irritation.

  5. Retinyl Palmitate: A form of vitamin A that may increase the risk of skin damage when exposed to sunlight, according to some studies.

  6. Parabens: Used as preservatives in some sunscreens, parabens have raised concerns due to their potential endocrine-disrupting effects.

It's important to note that individual reactions to sunscreen ingredients can vary. If you have specific skin conditions or sensitivities, it's advisable to consult with a dermatologist to find the best sunscreen for your needs. Additionally, choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and following proper application and reapplication guidelines are essential for effective sun protection.

The following are a list of FDA allowable active ingredients in sunscreens, with any safety results summarized:

  • Padimate O - not supported by European Union (EU), may be delisted by FDA.
  • p-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA) - shown to increase DNA defects.
  • Dioxybenzone - not tested for safety
  • Oxybenzone - not tested for safety

    How to Protect Yourself in Summer or Winter

    Although broad spectrum sunblocks help protect your skin, it's recommended you use other measures as suggested below for maximum protection.

    • Keep sunscreen and lip balm with you at all time, in your care and purse.
    • Use a natural sunscreen preferably zinc oxide sunscreen.
    • Keep a broad-rimmed hat in your car and wear it during sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM, when ultraviolet rays are strongest.
    • Lotion sunscreens are not water proof, but may be water resistant. Re-apply since they do wear off.
    • Children have sensitive, delicate skin and should especially be protected with proper clothing to cover sun exposed areas. Baby sunscreen brands are available.
    • Wear sunglasses to help prevent damage like cataracts or vision loss at older age.
    • Your lips also need sun cream. Protect your lips with natural lip balm with shea butter.
    • Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before exposure.
    • Make sure to apply to face, hands, neck, ears, hands and arms.
    Cleure Sunscreen SPF 30

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