Ask any esthetician what their favorite step of their routine is and I guarantee the answer will be sunscreen! The benefits of sunscreen are so important and it’s without a doubt the most important step of everyone’s skincare routine.
Some of you might be rolling your eyes right now, and I get it! Sunscreen used to be super boring to me, too, and I went years without wearing it at all unless I was lounging by the beach or pool.
But I’m here to give you a little tough love: you can throw your entire routine in the trash if you don’t wear sunscreen.
Sunscreen is the key to healthy, glowy, youthful-looking skin and I wouldn’t be doing my job as an esthetician if I wasn’t constantly nagging people about wearing it (sry not sry).
In honor of skin cancer awareness month, today I’m making this guide to address some of my most asked questions about sunscreen!
There’s a lot to go over, so let’s jump in!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to purchase a product through these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that goes toward the costs of running Levitate Beauty. You can read my full disclaimer here.
What are these benefits of sunscreen I speak of…
Let’s just say sunscreen does it all:
- Sunscreen prevents sunburn (We all know that. But it does so much more!)
- Sunscreen keeps your skin tone even and glowy. If you happen to be dealing with pigmentation or any of those post-acne dark spots, guess what: exposure to UV rays will actually make them darker.
- Sunscreen is the most important anti-aging product you’ll ever own. UV rays contribute to up to 80% of visible signs of aging. So sunscreen helps to prevent fine lines, wrinkles, sunspots, and loss of elasticity that can occur due to sun exposure.
- And, most importantly, SUNSCREEN SAVES LIVES by reducing your risk of skin cancer. This is the most important benefit of sunscreen.
Studies have shown that daily use of sunscreen can reduce your risk of melanoma by 50% and reduce your risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 40%. So sunscreen isn’t only about making your skin look amazing (although that’s certainly part of it!) sunscreen is also essential to your health.
Who should be wearing sunscreen?
Anyone and everyone. Period. End of story.
Skin cancer can affect anyone regardless of skin tone, ethnicity, age, or gender.
Sunscreen benefits everyone.
When should you use sunscreen?
You should wear sunscreen every. single. day.
Including when it’s raining or in the winter.
And yes, you should be wearing sunscreen indoors if you sit directly next to a window.
Why do you need sunscreen when it’s cloudy or when you’re inside?
You’re obviously not going to get sunburned when it’s rainy or when you’re sitting at your desk, so it might sound a little silly to wear sunscreen on these days. But, trust me, it’s not.
It all has to do with the sun’s UV rays. The sun emits three different types:
- UVA Rays are the ones that cause signs of aging and wrinkles, and they contribute to oxidative stress. UVA makes up more than 90% of UV radiation and can penetrate both clouds and glass (which is why it’s important to wear sunscreen in the winter, in the car, and even indoors if you’re near a window).
- UVB Rays are the ones that cause sunburn.
- UVC Rays mostly get absorbed by the ozone layer. So, luckily, we don’t have to think about these.
Both UVA and UVB rays have the potential to cause cancer.
How to apply sunscreen
Reading a “how-to” for applying sunscreen might sound silly but there is a correct way to apply sunscreen and improper use can significantly decrease the amount of protection you receive.
1. Apply sunscreen as the very last step of your skincare routine; 15-30 minutes before going outside.
If you wear makeup, your sunscreen should be applied a few minutes before your foundation.
2. You can only get the full benefits of your sunscreen if enough of it is applied.
If you look at the back of a sunscreen bottle, the directions will tell you to “apply liberally.”
This might seem kind of vague and it’s because, well, people come in different shapes and sizes. Everyone has a different sized face.
As a guide, try to use around 1/4 teaspoon for your face alone. Double that to 1/2 teaspoon if you include your neck and decollete.
Another good trick is applying three finger-lengths of sunscreen down your first, middle, and index fingers and using this amount on your face, neck, decollete, and ears.
Lastly, you’ll need about 1oz of sunscreen (a full shot glass) to protect your full body from head to toe.
3. Reapply at least every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.
Reapply more often if you’re in direct sun – especially during the hours of 10am-3pm when the UV rays are at their strongest.
Reapplying is important because:
- Sunscreen can come off your face if you’re sweating, swimming, or if you touch your face.
- Sunscreen filters can slowly break down as you’re exposed to UV rays
- And, most people don’t apply enough sunscreen the first time. So reapplying ensures that you’ll eventually reach the proper amount of SPF to be covered.
4. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen on these parts of your body that are often missed!
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen on your:
- Around your eyes (yes – you need sunscreen here!)
- Lips (an SPF lip balm can help with this)
- and your hands!
Sunscreen needs to be applied to every single part of exposed skin.
Other tips for protecting your skin from the effects of UV rays
- Opt for sunscreens that are SPF 30 or higher and are labeled “broad spectrum”.
- Make sure to use sunscreen every single day – yes, even in the winter or when it’s cloudy.
- Seek shade from 10am-4pm when the UV rays are strongest.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses.
- If possible, cover your skin with clothing if you’ll be in direct sun for an extended period of time.
What’s the deal with Mineral, Physical, or Chemical sunscreens?
One of the questions I get asked most is “should I choose a mineral or chemical sunscreen?” and my answer is an easy “do what works best for your skin.”
The BEST sunscreen is the one that you love enough to wear every single day.
To find out if your sunscreen is a mineral or chemical sunscreen, look at the “active ingredients” listed on the back of the bottle under “Drug facts.”
Mineral sunscreens (also known as physical sunscreens or inorganic sunscreen) are sunscreens that use Zinc Oxide or Titanium oxide UV filters. Mineral sunscreens protect your skin in two ways: They absorb some UV rays and convert them into heat AND they also reflect and scatter some UV rays.
Mineral sunscreens are typically great for sensitive skin and acne-prone skin. However, mineral sunscreens are also known for leaving a white cast (especially in deeper skin tones) unless they’re tinted.
Chemical sunscreens (or organic sunscreens), on the other hand, are sunscreens that use basically any other filter that’s not zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Some examples of chemical filters are: Avobenzone, Octocrylene, Homosalate, Tinosorb S. Chemical sunscreens protect our skin solely by absorbing UV rays and converting them into heat.
Chemical sunscreens are typically more “cosmetically elegant” (in other words, they feel more lightweight and comfortable on our skin). I’ve also never come across a chemical sunscreen that’s left a white cast.
Downsides to chemical sunscreens? Some people can be more sensitive to chemical sunscreens. The US is, unfortunately, pretty behind the times and the FDA has not approved a lot of the newer, gentler, and more effective chemical UV filters that are available in Asia and Europe.
Personally? I usually lean toward chemical sunscreens because I don’t love dealing with the white cast or heaviness of most mineral sunscreens and, strangely enough, my eyes are pretty sensitive to zinc.
Side note: Hybrid sunscreens also exist and are great! Hybrid sunscreens include a combination of mineral and chemical sunscreen filters.
What about “Reef safe” sunscreens?
What’s the deal with the “reef safe” label on your sunscreen? It’s an unregulated marketing term. There’s no legal definition for the term “reef safe,” so anyone can use this label on any sunscreen product.
I have a few issues with “reef safe” marketing:
- While there are studies suggesting that some sunscreen filters could have an impact on coral bleaching, there’s nothing conclusive. These studies were done using much higher concentrations of these sunscreen filters than would ever be encountered in real life. So there isn’t strong real-world evidence supporting the idea that sunscreens have a large impact on coral reefs.
- Skincare brands usually seem to use this label to promote the sale of mineral zinc-based sunscreens over chemical sunscreens, because there’s a fear that chemical sunscreens will cause coral bleaching and harm marine life. However, there are studies suggesting that zinc (mineral) filters may also be harmful to coral reefs and marine life. Again, these studies were performed using concentrations of zinc that don’t reflect real-world scenarios. So the evidence here isn’t super strong.
If you’re interested in reading more about the reef-safe issue, one of my favorite chemists Lab Muffin has a great blog post/youtube video busting the “reef safe” misconceptions. She also includes some insight from coral reef experts on the issue. Basically, coral reef experts are in agreement that sunscreens are not a major contributor to coral bleaching. However, climate change and pollution ARE, so we should focus our energy on factors that have strong evidence of being the biggest dangers to our reefs.
Overall, there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the “reef safe” issue, but some things we DO KNOW are:
- While we’re not sure about the impact of sunscreen on coral reefs, we do know that climate change and pollution ARE major contributors to coral bleaching. So we should focus our energy on factors that have strong evidence of being the biggest dangers to our reefs.
- We also know that skin cancer can be deadly. So whether you choose to use chemical or physical sunscreen doesn’t matter – just be sure to apply!
Are moisturizers with SPF effective? Yes, but…
Here’s the deal with SPF moisturizer. YES, it is just as effective as a regular sunscreen. Sunscreen is regulated as a drug in the US and whether the product is marketed as a sunscreen or a moisturizer, it goes through the exact same testing to ensure it meets the advertised SPF rating on the label.
With that being said, your SPF moisturizer is only effective if you treat it like sunscreen. The rules you’re applying to sunscreen still apply to your SPF moisturizer. Look for an SPF 30+ broad spectrum moisturizer, apply generously (1/2 teaspoon), apply thoroughly, don’t forget your neck, ears, and around your eyes.
What about SPF makeup and foundation? No, but…
SPF in your foundation is a great plus! However, you shouldn’t rely on it as your only sunscreen.
I hope this post has given you a little more insight into the benefits of sunscreen and why you need to wear it every day!