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Sunscreen skincare basics: Kind of a big deal!

The word sunscreen might bring up images of beach vacations and sunny hikes, but sunscreen is probably the most important part of your daily skincare routine.

Think about all the time spent researching wrinkle serums or learning about the latest skincare ingredients in skin whitening creams and of course, don’t forget about the cost of keeping your skin healthy.

With all this effort committed to caring for your skin, we’ll show you why sunscreen should be a priority in your skincare routine!

woman walking down road towards the sun

What does sunscreen do and why is sunscreen important for skincare?

A balanced skincare routine focuses on repair and hydrating the skin as well as preventing and protecting the skin from damage.

Most of the attention in skincare is in discovering new skincare products because it’s fun and exciting but who gets excited for sunscreen?

Well, an eye-opening study estimated that:

Approximately 80% of facial skin aging is attributed to UV-exposure.

Papakonstantinou, Roth & Karakiulakis, 2012

So, if having healthier skin with less signs of aging is your goal, it’s time to start getting excited about sunscreen!


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How does the sun affect the skin?

You probably know that the sun provides a daily stream of UV-ray but did you know there are actually 3 types of UV-rays?

Let’s take a look and see how these differ from each other:

  • UV-A
    • Penetrates deep into the lower levels of skin.[4][1]
    • Affects and damages DNA.Goes through glass windows.[1]
    • Ozone layer absorbs minimal amount.[2]
  • UV-B
    • Affects surface of the skin, causing redness & sensitivity known as sunburn.
    • Affects and damages DNA.
    • Most car windows block UV-B.[2]
    • Ozone layers absorbs 90%.[2]
  • UV-C
    • Ozone layer absorbs 100%.[2]
woman applying sunblock while at the beach

If you apply sunscreen only when going to the beach or a sunny hike, you might want to start using it everyday!

It turns out, most UV damage comes from the short, daily exposure.[8]

The daily commute to and from work or the quick trip to the store.

Year after year, this sort of repeated exposure to the sun slowly changes, and potentially damages, the skin.


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UV’s affect on skin health and appearance

Scientists studied the effects that UV-rays have on the skin for many years and found that both UVA and UVB radiation affects cellular DNA.[2][6][9]

Over time, these cells can cause skin cancer.[2]

About 90% of cases of skin cancer are associated with exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Shanbhag, Nayak, Narayan & Nayak, 2019

Ultraviolet rays also causes the skin to age much faster and has the following affects to the skin:

  • UV-rays destroy collagen, which is needed to keep the skin elastic and tight.
  • Long enough exposure leads to the “irreversible loss of skin elasticity.”[9]
  • UV-rays weakens the skins ability to make new collagen[6][9]
  • Collagen loss causes the skin to lose support, resulting in sagging and wrinkly skin.
  • Dry and sensitive skin.
  • Skin becomes darker by producing dark Melanin pigments.[9]
  • Some areas produce more Melanin, causing hyperpigmentation and dark spots.
Hyperpigmentation Dark Spot on facial skin Before Using Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum
Dark spots and hyperpigmentation contains dark melanin pigments.

This scientist summed up the importance of sunscreen best by saying:

Sunscreen is the most biologically active anti-aging ingredient in skin care products.

Draelos, 2010


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Different types of sunscreen and how they affect skincare

Hopefully by now, you have the urge to start using sunblock everyday.

But, it’s important to keep in mind that not all sunscreens are the same.

Here are some of the major differences between the common sunscreen available now:

Chemical Based Sunscreen

Referred as organic sunscreen (organic is not the same as “organic” used to describe food products), chemical based sunscreen uses active ingredients that absorbs and stabilizes high energy UV particles.

The most common active ingredients in chemical based sunscreens are:

  • Aminobenzoate
    • Most effective protection against UVB but does not absorb UVA.
    • Some people are allergic/sensitive to Para-aminobenzoic Acid (PABA).
  • Cinnamate*
    • Second most effective UVB absorber.
  • Octinoxate*
    • Absorbs UVB and commonly used in United States.[2]
  • Ensulizole
    • Only absorbs UVB and not UVA.
    • Common ingredient used in cosmetics.
  • Benzophenone*
    • Absorbs UVA.
  • Avobnezone
    • Absorbs UVA.
    • Unstable to light and “lose from 50% to 90% of their particles after 1 hour of UV exposure.”[2]
woman wearing black sweater

Organic sunscreen is incredibly popular because it’s easy to apply on the skin and it does so without leaving a white cast on the skin!

However, there are concerns that some active ingredients can be harmful if absorbed into the body (*details in the next section).

Also, some chemical sunscreens may not have complete UV protection, so it’s important to look for “Broad Spectrum” sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB.


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Mineral Based Sunscreen

Commonly called Physical or Inorganic sunscreen, this type of sunscreen uses minerals to physically reflect and scatter UV particles away from the skin.[9]

The main active ingredients[7] found in mineral based sunscreen are:

  • Titanium Dioxide
    • Blocks mostly UVB
  • Zinc Oxide
    • Blocks both UVA and UVB.
Kiehl’s Mineral Sunscreen with Titanium Dioxide
Kiehl’s Mineral Sunscreen with Titanium Dioxide.

Mineral based sunscreen is becoming more popular because studies have shown that these active ingredients are not absorbed by the body and stays on the surface of the skin[3].

Also, there’s less irritation when applying this sunscreen so it’s an option for those with sensitive skin.[3][7][9]

Using mineral based sunscreen isn’t as convenient as the organic based sunscreen as the minerals in the sunscreen does not spread easily on the skin and commonly leaves a noticeable white cast on the skin!

In the past, almost all sunscreen were chemical based[3] and mineral sunscreens were a niche product.

However, scientists found concerning results when testing chemical based sunscreens that made people question the safety of sunscreen.


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Sunscreen skincare controversies

Has anyone ever told you sunscreen is bad for you?

Well, they had a good reason to be concerned.

In 2003, scientists studied if the body absorbed any active ingredients in chemical based sunscreens and they found:

  • Out of 2517 urine samples, 97% of urine had benzophenone-3.[3]
  • Some UV active ingredients were able to cross the blood-brain barrier[3] possibly collecting in the brain.
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate had “statistically significant effects on the levels of testosterone and estradiol.”[3]
  • Ethylhexyl methoxy cinnamate & octocrylene showed up in human milk samples.[3]

Also, there’s the environmental issue of sunscreen and water pollution.

In 2018, Hawaii banned chemical based sunscreens using oxybenzone & octinoxate.[7]


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The future of sunscreen and skincare

Although chemical based sunscreens still make up a majority of the market, mineral based sunscreen have become more popular.

Scientists even developed smaller, nano-particle mineral sunscreens so it spreads easier without leaving a white hue on the skin.

Stick of mineral sunscreen from Trader Joes
Notice how this sunscreen from Trader Joe’s specifically labels “Non-Nano”.

Now, you may be wondering if nano-sized minerals has the same absorb issues.

Studies show that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sunscreens do not penetrate past the level of the stratum corneum (the outermost “dead” layer of skin cells) after topical application to intact skin.

Kuritzky & Beecker, 2015

But, that isn’t all!

Currently, new mineral sunscreens are being developed with the environment in mind:

Importantly, these products have been formulated to be reef‐friendly and replace chemical‐based active sunscreen ingredients with mineral‐based protection.

Bernstein, Sarkas, Boland & Bouche, 2020

If you haven’t already, it’s time to get serious about sunscreen and skincare.

A daily sunscreen habit is just as important as the rest of your skincare routine.

If you can’t wear sunblock, try covering up with clothing and hats and avoid going outside when UV levels are high!

Also, don’t forget to apply sunscreen on cloudy days!

Up to 80% of UVR is still transmitted to the Earth’s surface.

Wilson, Moon & Armstrong, 2012

Remember, sunscreen is skincare.


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  1. Wilson, B., Moon, S., Armstrong, F. (2012). Comprehensive Review of ultraviolet Radiation and the Current Status on Sunscreens.
  2. Gabros, S., Nessel, T., Zito, P. (2020). Sunscreens And Photoprotection.
  3. Ruszkiewicz, J., Pinkas, A., Ferrer, B., Peres, T., Tsatsakis, A., Aschner, M. (2017). Neurotoxic effect of active ingredients in sunscreen products, a contemporary review.
  4. Kuritzky, L., Beecker, J. (2015). Sunscreens.
  5. Bens, G. (2014). Sunscreens.
  6. Shanbhag, S., Nayak, A., Narayan, R., Nayak, U. (2019). Anti-Aging and Sunscreens: Paradigm Shift in Cosmetics.
  7. Bernstein, E., Sarkas, H., Boland, P., Bouche, D. (2020). Beyond sun protection factor: An approach to environmental protection with novel mineral coatings in a vehicle containing a blend of skincare ingredients.
  8. Rodan, K., Fields, K., Majewski, G., Falla, T. (2016). Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare.
  9. Geoffrey, K., Mwangi, A., Maru, S. (2019). Sunscreen products: Rationale for use, formulation development and regulatory considerations.