Sunscreen: What you need to know to pick the best one!

By April Segal, PharmD, BCPS, APh

Remedy Pharmacist + Founder

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The skin is the largest organ of the human body and almost everything we put on it is absorbed systemically. When it comes to sunscreen, this fact is especially important because users are directed to apply liberally and reapply frequently. That can add up to a lot of exposure to the ingredients in that product. No doubt at this point you have at least caught wind that some sunscreens might be better than others. In this article, we break down a few key facts to help you decide which sunscreen is right for you and your family.

What SPF Means

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is the measure of how much UV radiation penetrates the sunscreen. The higher the SPF the less radiation that passes through. An SPF of 15-plus filters out about 93% of rays, SPF 30-plus filters out 97%, SPF 50-plus, 98%; and SPF 100-plus, 99%. The SPF number indicates how long it would take UV rays to redden the skin if the product were used exactly as directed versus if no sunscreen was used. Therefore, an SPF 30 means you can take on 30 times the sun exposure before experiencing the effects of going without sunscreen. Typically I recommend an SPF of 30. It is way more important to apply frequently than it is to get the highest possible SPF.

The Two Categories of Sunscreen

There are basically two types of sunscreens: chemical and mineral (natural). Chemical sunscreens contain two or more chemicals and are absorbed into the skin to filter the sun away from the skin. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide and sit on top of the skin and block UV rays. Chemical sunscreens are popular because they are easy to apply and does not leave a white sheen. However, this convenience comes at a cost (read below). Of the 16 active sunscreen ingredients, only two have been proven effective AND SAFE - titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are the mineral sunscreens. 

Health Effects of Sunscreen

Controversy in the sunscreen world hinges on two main concerns, the human safety of the UV blocking chemicals used in chemical sunscreen, and their effects on our marine habitat. If you want to read no further detail, the short answer to avoiding these problems is to stick to non-nano mineral-based sunscreen, which is safe for your whole family and also for the planet.

There are 16 approved effective sunscreen agents. As we have said previously only 2 of these (the mineral ones) have been proven to be both effective and safe. Of the remaining 14, two have now been proven to NOT be safe, PABA, and trolamine salicylate; the last 12 do not have sufficient evidence to be deemed safe. The safety concerns of the chemical sunscreens stem from endocrine disruption and also skin irritation. It is my personal opinion that due to these two concerns, mineral sunscreen should be used when possible, reserving the chemical sunscreens when it is your only option.

Marine Life

The other issue involves the effect on marine life. When individuals swim or shower after applying sunscreen the product enters the waterways. Sunscreen chemicals are known to be harmful to marine life such as coral, dolphins, fish, green algae, mussels, and sea urchins. These include benzophenone-1, benzophenone-8, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, titanium dioxide nano-particles, octyl dimethyl PABA, oxybenzone and 3-benzylidene. If you want to make sure the product you pick is safe for marine life, then choose non-nano mineral sunscreen.

A Note on Spray Sunscreen

Mineral and chemical sunscreens come in spray form. Sunscreen sprays typically have some sort of propellant which can cause other health concerns. As an example, titanium dioxide has an EWG score of 1 in a non-spray form (the safest rating), however, some titanium dioxide spray sunscreens rating will worsen to a 6 when you take into account the health effects of other ingredients. So, if you are looking for the safest product, it is best to avoid the spray versions, even with the mineral type of sunscreen.

Sunscreen Available at Remedy

At Remedy, we carry sunscreen from three different lines, all mineral-based. 

  • COOLA - We love COOLA because it is local and mineral-based. We carry a few travel sizes and also spray or typical lotion.

  • Josh Rosebrook- Josh Rosebrook Nutrient Day Cream is our top pick for a daily facial sunscreen. This non-nano zinc formula is perfect for your daily SPF of 30, but because it is micronized it helps prevent a white sheen.

  • On the Green CBD - Another local company! This one is unique in that it contains CBD in it as well. Why, you ask? CBD is a great topical inflammatory, and UV exposure is a notorious generator of free radicals, a great power pack combo, sun protection and skin-calming!

  • Babo Botanicals- If you are looking for an ultraclean and effective one this one is great for you. Their Clear Zinc Unscented Sunscreen gets an EWG rating of 1!