Wearing sunscreen is important to prevent cancer and premature aging, but how do we know which one to chose to protect our skin from both UVA and UVB rays and avoid a negative reaction? After all, what’s the point of wearing sunscreen if it’s not gonna offer broad spectrum protection, will fade away soon or simply irritate our skin? So, I thought I’d write a post about what I consider to be the best sunscreen ingredients. I hope you’ll find it helpful.
Zinc Oxide, also called ZnO, is my favourite sunscreen ingredient because it offers broad spectrum protection on its own without causing problems for the skin. Zinc Oxide is a physical blocker, which means that once applied on the skin, it acts like a shield: when the sun rays hit the skin, they are simply reflected and scattered away from it. But while it is true that Zinc Oxide protects against the entire UV range, it needs to be included in sunscreens in concentrations of at least 16% to be effective. If the amount is lower, then other sunscreen ingredients, such as Titanium Dioxide, should be included in the product too. In addition, it is also considered to be a skin protectant and an anti-irritant. However, because Zinc Oxide is a white powder, it can leave an unattractive white cast on the skin. For sunscreens containing Zinc Oxide you can try those from Badger and Zinka.
Mexoryl SX, also called Ecamsule, is a chemical sunscreen ingredient developed and patented by L’Oreal. It offers complete protection against UVA rays and some against UVB rays too. And because it is photostable (doesn’t degrade and lose effectiveness when exposed to sunlight), there is no need to reapply it often like you would with other chemical sunscreen ingredients such as Avobenzone. It is often combined with Mexoryl XL (also called Drometrizole Trisiloxane, it protects against UVB rays and because it is oil soluble is a great option for extended outdoors activities), Titanium Dioxide, Avobenzone and Zinc Oxide to provide full spectrum protection. Mexoryl can cause irritations, but the risk of that happening is very low. Mexoryl can be found in sunscreens made by L’Oreal and the other brands the company owns such as Kiehl’s and La Roche-Posay.
Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M
Tinosorb S (bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine) and Tinosorb M (methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol) are two chemical sunscreen ingredients that protect against the entire UVA range. In addition, they also offer some protection against UVB rays. Tinosorb S is water soluble while Tinosorb M is oil soluble but both are photostable and can also partly prevent the degradation of other sunscreen ingredients, such as Avobenzone. Skin irritations can occur, but are rare. Widely used in Europe and Australia, for some reason they haven’t been approved by the FDA yet. If you’re looking for a sunscreen with Tinosorb you can try those made by Eucerin (such as Eucerin White Solution with SPF40) and RoC.
Just like Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide is a physical blocker that reflect UV rays away from the skin so that they can’t damage it. It protects against the entire UVB range but only against half the UVA range so it has to be used in conjunction with other sunscreen ingredients such as Zinc Oxide, Avonenzone or Mexoryl for broad spectrum protection. A highly stable ingredient, it too can leave a whitish cast on the skin (stronger than that left by Zinc Oxide) but it doesn’t irritate skin. Although not as effective as Zinc Oxide, it is still a very valid option, especially for those with sensitive skin. There are lots of sunscreens on the market containing Titanium Dioxide. L’Oreal, Peter Thomas Roth, Neutrogena and Clinique are just a few brands that include this ingredient in their products.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of active sunscreen ingredients available, but I believe those mentioned here are the best because they offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays (although some of them do need to be used in conjunction with other ingredients for broad spectrum protection), are photostable so don’t lose efficacy overtime when exposed to sunlight and there is a very, very low risk of them irritating skin. I personally prefer to use physical blockers with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide (I don’t care about the white cast since my skin is already very pale anyway) but end up using sunscreens with Titanium Dioxide and Mexoryl most of the time because they are simply more easy to come across in shops here in Italy. But whatever sunscreen you choose, make sure that it contains ingredients that protect both against UVA and UVB rays and that they are present in concentrations high enough to do their job well.
What active sunscreen ingredients do you prefer to use and why?