sunscreen 101

sunscreen 101

sunscreen 101

updated july 2022.

so many sunscreens out there that can make things confusing - and can break you out. it's important to know some sunscreen basics to understand what choices you have, and which types are the better choice!

what does SPF mean, anyway?
it's an acronym for 'sun protection factor.' it's a mathematical formula which helps determine how long you can be in direct sunlight before you start turning red.

so, say angelina can stay in the direct sunlight WITHOUT sun protection for a maximum of 10 minutes before they start turning red. so, this means that if they wear a sunscreen lotion with an SPF of 15, theoretically, with a proper application of said lotion, angelina can stay out in the sun for (10 minutes times 15 =) 150 minutes.

however, if they get wet (sweats, or swims), or somehow rubs the sunscreen off, they should reapply immediately. there is some truth that the darker the skin is, the slower it is to burn, but the chances of inherent damage are not necessarily rarer; for instance, darker skins also have a higher tendency to get hyperpigmented.

skin cancer doesn't discriminate, so everyone - regardless of skin tone - should practice sun safety!

there are 2 different sunscreen types - physical and chemical.
the difference between the two in a nutshell:

  • physical sunscreens consist of 2 ingredients: zinc and titanium dioxide. because they are organic minerals, they are also called 'mineral sunscreens', and are present in most mineral makeups, and mineral sunscreen powders. they will actually REFLECT sunlight off the skin, as well as the heat from those sun rays - so this would be a better choice for those who easily hyper pigment. (sunspots can not only are created from sun exposure, but heat as well.)

    physical sunscreens are stable, and because of this, are less likely to irritate sensitive skins. however, because they are essentially very finely ground down minerals, they can often leave a whitish cast on the skin if not rubbed in thoroughly, or formulated elegantly. they can also be difficult to wash off (which can be a good thing, you know it will stay on your skin to protect you, but can take extra diligence in washing off).

    from an acne standpoint, the problem with most physical sunscreens on the market are that they're often are in a comedogenic base: either coconut oil, soybean oil, are combined with cloggy seaweed (which apparently also has sun protective qualities, and is what happened with the formerly acne-safe coola formulation).
  • chemical sunscreens are all the other SPF ingredients, often ending in -zone or -xate. the most popular ones are avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, and working by ABSORBING sunlight and heat. they are synthetic and thought not to be as stable as physical sunscreens, and tend to be more irritating for sensitive skins. but, they are invisible, so there is no chalkiness upon application with these SPF's (if you are dark-skinned, chemical may be the choice for you because of this). however, there are studies done by health research groups that suggest that chemical sunscreens are toxic, and mimic hormones, are carcinogenic, etc etc.

both types are also often suspended in dimethicone. dimethicone is not necessarily a comedogenic ingredient for most, but for those who have particularly sensitive and acne-prone skin (about 2-5% of our thousands of clients), it may be best to avoid it. if that's the case, you may want to look into a mineral powder sunscreen then; la bella donna's formulation looks safe, but we definitely learned in-clinic years ago that colorescience's sunforgettable brushes (sadly) had cloggy coralina officionalis seaweed in them, which will break you out.

all of the SPF's we sell are physical block based. 2 of sS's 3 sunscreens (tizo 2 + tizo 3, and safeguard) contain dimethicone, and the one that doesn't is clear choice sport shield spf 45.

what exactly are you being protected from?
UVA's are the "aging" rays, UVB's are the "burning" rays and UVC's are the "cancerous" rays of the sun. so, when you get a sunscreen that says, 'broad spectrum protection', 'multi spectrum' or 'uva/uvb' on it, you know you'll be getting protection from both. as the ozone layer is depleted, we will likely be more exposed to UVC's, which would be the more directly cancerous rays of the sun. however, genetic propensity, cumulative sun exposure to UVA/UVB's and immune health can still join forces and cause skin cancers of the skin, even without direct UVC exposure.

spf 15 vs spf 30 v spf 100?
according to the skin cancer foundation, spf 15's protect you from 93% of the UVB's, spf 30's protect you from 97% and spf 50's protect you from 98%. however, the protection you would get going up from spf30 or 50 is very slight; it starts to increase only by a fraction of a percentage. the skin cancer foundation site does not seem to differentiate the difference in sun protection in chemical versus physical sunscreens, but in the american professional skincare industry, physical sunscreen is heralded as the better, more efficacious choice.

sunhat photographed by chris booth

other important factors to consider include:

  • proper application is important. the skin cancer foundation says that we should apply a teaspoon of SPF to our faces a day, and 1oz (about a shot-glass' worth) to our entire bodies. yes, this is a ton of product to be rubbing on, but more importantly, we just want you to get your sunscreen EVERYWHERE. this means, your neck and chest, the back of your neck, your ears (my mom got her ears fried once while on vacation - they seriously looked oven roasted!) and for the shaved head folks, your scalps!

    i like to do a really good full-body application of SPF before putting my swimsuit on, then reapplying as soon as i get to the beach / sunny place. the thorough first application helps add a layer of protection to places you may overlook during reapplications on location.

  • reapplication is key to continuous protection. you should be reapplying every 2 hours, and even more frequently if you are sweating, rubbing or wiping off your skin, getting wet (like with swimming), or are extra sun sensitive (usually really fair skinned, and light- or red-haired). this is true even for sunscreens that are SPF95 (not a real thing, btw - read on) and claim to be 'water-proof' or 'water-resistant' (some will stay on longer than others, but in the end it's really all marketing).

  • just because you have sunscreen on, doesn't mean you don't need to seek shade. minimizing your exposure will also minimize your chances of sun damage - including wrinkles, spots, and cancer.
    • shade = cooler temperatures, which can help reduce not only sun but also heat-induced rosacea and hyperpigmentation!
    • shade options include trees, buildings, standing behind very tall/wide people or things, umbrellas, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and even clothing - including long sleeved + long pants that are dark and tightly woven, but also ones that have SPF built into them (uniqlo, solumbra, and rei are just a few retailers who sell them, but there are still skeptics about this new-ish technology). wearing large framed sunglasses are great for protecting the eyeballs themselves from the sun, the skin around the eye area and squinting (that can cause crow's feet wrinkles over time).

  • avoiding the sun at it's strongest, between the hours of 10am - 4pm (depending on your timezone & location, obviously) can also help keep you sun safe(r).

  • sun exposure is also not always obvious. people who drive, or work indoors next to a window are still exposed to sun. foggy days can also still expose you to sunlight, which in some cases, is actually magnified by the water content of the atmosphere. in fact, those who drive in the US get more skin cancers on their left side, and those who drive in opposite-driving countries get them more on their right sides.

skinSALVATION's sunscreen offerings
ok, so we got all the sunscreen basics down. now, here's what we can offer you! we've got 3 basic sunscreens. we generally recommend SPF's to clients based on desired moisture levels, but also take into consideration each clients' nuance: will they be wearing mineral makeup? do they have a history of skin cancer? etc etc. in order of least to most moisturizing, here are our SPF's:

    • TIZO 2 (untinted) + 3 (tinted). these are not at all moisturizing, which can be good for really oily skins and for those who wear makeup thanks to its velvety, makeup-prep-like texture on the skin.

      i have personally put both formulas on either side of my face at the same time, and when applied properly (not too much, and massaged in very thoroughly), saw no obvious difference on my complexion (i am an illuminare liquid foundation fair and a youngblood pressed powder toffee). this will vary of course, if you are lighter or darker than i!

      this formula is a favorite of medical esthetic clinics and plastic surgeons nationwide to use post-procedure. it's good for everyday wear (especially for makeup-wearers) and great for wet and sweaty activities.

  • clear choice sport shield SPF 45 (light moisture, good for normal to oily, or normal to dry skins - great for everyday face and body use where you're not going to get wet or sweaty).

    it has a banana scent (from the plantain extract it contains) which wears off rather quickly, about 15-30 minutes after application.

  • safeguard spf 40. my all-time favorite, this is our most moisturizing but not greasy SPF, suitable for normal to dry to drier skins, or those who need 'sport' protection, it's splash-resistant up to 80 minutes. you can use this for both face & body.

    i use this alone most days though in the winter, i sometimes have to layer hydrating cream on my nose (which gets drier than the rest of my face) first, then this sunscreen on top.

    with it's 80 minute waterproof rating, this is also a really good one to use on the body. as long as you massage it in thoroughly, it leaves very little white cast! after testing so many of high and low-end acne-safe sunscreens, i honestly prefer this one for it's texture and effectiveness for sweaty + wet activities.


ANOTHER FAVORITE (that we don't sell)

the la bella donna spf 50 powder brush is a favorite of mine that i have trouble holding onto. i used to keep a brush in my bag but inevitably would end up giving it girlfriends who'd have spf brush envy whenever i pulled it out to use, lol. it's great for hot weather reapplications, i don't have to fuss with washing my hands to reapply sunscreen lotion to my face, to get the strong protection of the 100% mineral spf 50. some application tips:

    • make sure to prime the brush on the back of your hand (to ensure the powder is flowing out through the brush onto your face; you should see a puff of powder come off the tip when it's ready to use)
    • always use a lotion sunscreen first to create a strong sun protection base to build protection upon (you can put makeup on, then use this brush after or throughout the day)
    • generously apply this all over your face for sufficient coverage (i do 3 good rounds all over my face) and afterwards i will
    • pack the minerals onto my face by pressing the powder into my face with clean hands to ensure powder stays on my face (and doesn't blow off because, powder). you can also pull the brush sleeve halfway up the bristles to create a stiffer brush and use this to pack the powder into your skin, much like this foundation buffer brush.

we no longer carry this (clients just weren't buying it, so we phased it out) but it's a really great formula, it's still acne-safe and you can get it directly from the manufacturer.

for some silly reason, they sell the product in tubes labeled men or women, but the actual product inside are exactly the same. i hope they change up this gender binary sillyness. the product itself is really great, so i still highly recommend it. 

this specific SPF would also be great for those with malassezia folliculitis, a skin condition that is very sensitive and reactive to many skincare ingredients.


because minerals are inherently porous and absorbent, you may find that mineral makeup and mineral SPF can be a bit drying. this is normal and to be expected. this can be desirable for our oily skinned clients, but drier skinned clients may need to layer our hydrating gel or hydrating cream (currently under reformulation; use shea butter instead) underneath your SPF to make sure you don't get too dried out.

i'm a big fan of the big hat for sun protection, it also helps keep you cool in hot climates. but the rim can get pretty gross with sweat, hair and skin products. so, i recommend wrapping your head with a scarf and washing your hat!

putting the scarf on before your wide-brim hat serves as an easily washable barrier between your sweaty head and the brim of your hat. 

and actually washing your hats with soap and water is super important. i notice tiny acne bumps along my hairline in hot climates from wearing my hat. i love this fragrance-free powder enzyme laundry wash to gently yet effectively wash my hats in the sink. (this stuff is a must-have for me while i travel, when i have to do laundry in hotel sinks or even like normal at home in machines).

if you have hats you've worn but haven't washed, be prepared to be grossed out (and very satisfied) after a good cleansing with this laundry wash. 

Not sure where to start?