Sunscreen and its ingredients are a controversial and personal topic. The media inundates us with mixed messages – at one end berating individuals for not frequently re-applying and on the other end claiming that sunscreen and its ingredients actually CAUSE cancer.
I always strive to be the voice of reason for my Minnesota patients. As a board certified dermatologist, I can assure my patients that NOT using sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer. However, I agree that constant use of many chemicals MAY (and I stress may) be harmful.
Thus, the key ingredients that I stress for my patients are minerals, particularly zinc oxide. These mineral based sunscreens (which typically contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) sit on top of the skin as a shield and protectant from the sun. In contrast, the chemical based sunscreens (long names include avobenzone, octocrylene, ecamsule, etc.) must be absorbed into the skin to provide sun protection. Also good to know – the mineral sunscreens provide almost immediate protection while chemical sunscreens need to be applied approximately 30 minutes prior to going outside in order to be effective.
Zinc is the only ingredient that I use for my children’s sunscreen. In fact, the FDA recommends zinc as the main sunscreen ingredient for babies.
Zinc alone can be very chalky and white so it is important to look for the words “micronized.” This is a process whereby the mineral particles are made finer and more cosmetically elegant (but does not decrease the sunscreen efficacy).
I hope this sheds light on a confusing topic and encourages more of my patients and friends to safely protect their skin with my favorite ingredient zinc!