Hopefully you know by now that you need to wear sunscreen every day, but are you familiar with the best sunscreen ingredients? All sun protection formulas are not the same, so it’s important to have knowledge around sunscreen ingredients and what to look for and avoid in sunscreen.
This guide will help you understand what’s in sunscreen and how each ingredient protects against the effects of UVA and UVB radiation. We’ll also touch on some ingredients to avoid, before providing targeted product recommendations from our Anthelios range of sunscreens for the face and body.
WHAT ARE UVA AND UBV RAYS?
Before delving into the details of how different sunscreen ingredients work, let’s clarify what sunscreens are protecting us from. Ultraviolet radiation is the type of powerful sun rays that can cause harm to our skin. What many people don’t know is that there are two different types of UV rays that have different effects on skin: UVA and UVB.
How UVA works:
- UVA radiation is present all year regardless of the weather and can penetrate glass to reach you indoors.
- Rather than causing sunburn, the damage from this kind of radiation can take years to become noticeable.
- UVA’s long rays penetrate deep into the dermis, causing long-term damage such as wrinkles, pigmentation and skin cancer.
- These rays are considered the primary cause of premature visible skin ageing.
How UVB works:
- UVB radiation is responsible for sunburn and tanning, meaning their effects show up more quickly than those of UVA radiation.
- The SPF (sun protection factor) number on your sunscreen measures protection against UVB rays.
- Unlike UVA, glass can stop UVB rays.
- UVB has a shorter wavelength than UVA, but more energy. This means UVB is also harmful and cancer-causing.
You can’t see or feel either type of UV radiation. Read our guide The UV Index: How it Helps You Stay Safe in the Sun to learn more about tracking UV levels.
CHOOSING SUNSCREEN BASED ON INGREDIENTS
Levels and type of protection can vary significantly between sunscreen formulations.
Some sunscreen ingredients block UVA, some block UVB and some block both. Some ingredients are also unstable unless combined with certain others, while some ingredients work better than the sum of their parts when combined. There is no rating system to measure UVA protection, so you need to look for a Broad Spectrum formula.
For all these reasons, having some basic sunscreen ingredients knowledge helps you choose an efficacious sunscreen to suit your needs.
CHEMICAL VS PHYSCIAL SUNSCREENS
You may have heard of the two main types of sunscreen ingredients: chemical and physical. It’s important to be aware of the pros and cons of chemical and physical sunscreens and opt for the formula with the most benefits for your skin type and concerns.
Chemical sunscreens utilise ingredients that absorb and reflect UV radiation via a chemical reaction. These chemical filters can be combined to enhance protection and can be formulated in a light wearable texture. However, some people are sensitive to some chemical sunscreen ingredients.
Physical sunscreen ingredients consist of fine mineral particles (often zinc oxide or titanium oxide) that reflect and absorb UV rays, also minimising damage. These formulas are less likely to trigger sensitive skin, however they offer less UVA protection and can feel thick on the skin. Their heaviness also means these ingredients are less suitable for acne-prone skin.
OUR ADVICE ON THE MOST EFFACACIOUS SUNSCREEN INGREDIENTS
We’ve put together a list of the most efficacious sunscreen ingredients and their key features. You should look for these ingredients when choosing a sunscreen, as well as paraben-free, oil-free and fragrance-free formulas depending on your skin’s needs.
This physical sunscreen ingredient is non-sensitising and stable, offering protection from UVA and UVB rays.
MEXORYL SX [ECAMSULE]
Unlike most sunscreen ingredients Mexoryl SX (also called Terephthalylidene Dicamphor Sulfonic Acid and listed as Ecamsule in therapeutic sunscreens) is water soluble. Mexoryl SX is a renewable, photostable carbon based filter that doesn’t break down under the sun’s rays. This ingredient provides protection against UVB and UVA.
This chemical filter is a potent UVB absorber that works well when combined with avobenzone for broad-spectrum protection.
One of the most popular modern sunscreen ingredients, chemical filter avobenzone blocks UVA. This ingredient destabilises with light exposure but can be mixed with other chemical filters to enhance stability.
This chemical filter is very common and works well with other chemical sunscreens. Homosalate absorbs UVB radiation.
WHAT TO AVOID IN SUNSCREEN
Over time, some sunscreen ingredients have fallen out of favour due to side effects or environmental impacts. Here are some sunscreen ingredients to avoid while pregnant, and in general.
FRAGRANCE AND ALCOHOL
Added fragrance can allude to other unknown ingredients in sunscreen products and can be disruptive to those with sensitive skin. The inclusion of simple alcohols in sunscreen can also impact skin by increasing sensitivity and dryness. However, not all alcohols are considered bad for skin – this depends on the type used and concentration level
Para Amino Benzoic Acid (PABA) is a UVB absorber, but its side effects of increased photosensitivity and risk of allergies has led to it being banned in some countries.
SUNSCREEN PRODUCT RECOMMENDATIONS
La Roche-Posay’s SPF range utilise both chemical and physical sunscreen ingredients to provide very high broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. Our varied format formulas are designed to cater to different skin and situational needs.
Our Anthelios XL Anti-Shine Dry Touch Facial Sunscreen SPF50+ caters to oily and acne-prone skin. This non-comedogenic formula provides broad-spectrum protection while also mattifying your face.
If you’re looking for makeup coverage, opt for our Anthelios Ultra BB Cream SPF50+ designed for dry, sensitive skin. As with the previous formula, this sunscreen combines chemical and physical filters for stable broad-spectrum protection.
ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR USE.
Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Sunscreen is only one part of sun protection so wear protective clothing and seek shade. Avoid prolonged sun exposure. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, towelling and perspiring in accordance with directions.
Wondering how to help the kids in your life stay sun safe? Read our next article Sun Protection Tips for Kids.