Safer Sunscreen 101

I once was the girl who absolutely baked in the sun for hours on end without a care in the world for sunscreen or shade, but my lupus diagnosis quickly turned me into the grandma who couldn’t go outside in the winter without applying SPF 30 (only a slight exaggeration).

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Trying to pretend this sunhat was cool. It wasn’t.

In a very basic sense, a sunburn is a form of inflammation: inflammation of your skin caused by over-exposure to harmful rays from the sun. If you are already experiencing inflammation (as most of us with autoimmune disease are) and you add an additional source of inflammation from a sunburn, you are simply increasing the burden on your body. This added inflammation can contribute to symptoms of chronic illness by raising your body’s overall inflammation levels, as it does for me.

But sun exposure has a lot of other dangers as well, and choosing the right sunscreen is crucial to protect against the sun’s harmful rays.

Different Kinds of Light

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There are three different kinds of light that you want to protect against when choosing a sunscreen.

  1. UVB: this is the type of light we typically think of as harmful. UVB rays lead to burns and skin damage, as well as to skin cancer. UVB rays are more prevalent in the summer when the sun is stronger. Considering that one in five Americans is diagnosed with skin cancer, and that more Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined, you need to protect yourself from
    UVB rays.
  2. UVA: unlike UVB rays, UVA rays are equally dangerous at all times of the year and don’t cause an immediate reaction to let us know that we are being harmed. Instead, UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and cause aging. UVA rays can also go through clouds and glass, so you are susceptible to damage even while you are driving your car or on a cloudy day.
  3. Blue Light: perhaps most surprisingly, blue light is as much of a concern for aging as UVA light but it can come from any light source. Light from your lightbulbs, TVs, computers, cell phones, etc. can oxidize your skin and cause it to age more quickly. Who knew that we needed to protect ourselves from light inside?!

Different Types of Sunscreen

Perhaps surprisingly, or perhaps not, there are different types of sunscreen that protect against different types of light in different ways.

Chemical sunscreens act as sun filters that absorb and scatter rays of light through heat. Most sunscreens on the market are chemical sunscreens despite the fact that these have a high potential for skin irritation and don’t actually block the light. Furthermore, these sunscreens are loaded with toxic chemicals that are absorbed by your skin and enter your bloodstream.

Mineral sunscreens physically block rays of light by reflecting them off the skin. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide as a physical barrier to protect the skin. These are often more gentle on the skin and are great for children or those with sensitive skin. It is important to note, though, that your skin will still absorb the zinc oxide (and it will then enter your bloodstream) unless it is non-nano zinc oxide, which cannot be absorbed.

How to Choose a Sunscreen

When choosing a sunscreen, here are the top three options I would suggest, in order:

  1. Non-nano zinc oxide mineral sunscreen. This will actually block harmful rays of light and will not be absorbed into the blood stream.
  2. Zinc oxide mineral sunscreen. This will still actually block harmful rays of light rather than absorbing and scattering them. The zinc oxide still has the potential to be absorbed into your bloodstream.
  3. Broad spectrum chemical sunscreen. If you must use a chemical sunscreen, at least choose broad spectrum, which blocks against UVA + UVB rays.

My Sunscreen Story & Recommendations

I used chemical sunscreens for years and I reacted TERRIBLY to them. I still got rashes and increased lupus symptoms every time I was in the sun. I eventually stopped using them altogether (before I ever dug into the research) because I simply hated the way they made me feel.

I have also tried many mineral sunscreens but I have honestly hated most of them. Most mineral sunscreens have a thick zinc oxide that makes your skin look white and feel heavy. I had one face stick that I used in desperate times, but I have essentially gone without sunscreen for years because I could not find one I liked.

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I spent my whole freshman year spring break covered up in the shade while my friends lay in the sun.

Recently, though, Beautycounter released its new Countersun line and I am absolutely OBSESSED! These mineral sunscreens meet all of my criteria for safe sunscreen, plus they go on easily and feel great on your skin. Countersun non-nano zinc oxide sunscreens protect against all three types of harmful rays, and the SPF 30 provides 97% protection. It also comes in a face stick (perfect for your purse or backpack), lotion, AND mist (not aerosol, don’t worry). You can read more about it in the graphic below.

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I am not kidding when I say I genuinely could not find a sunscreen I trusted and loved until I discovered the Beautycounter tinted moisturizer with SPF and the Countersun line. I use the tinted moisturizer almost every day for guaranteed protection from all three rays (even when I am inside!) and have the Countersun products for more heavy-duty protection when I plan to spend time outside.

Final Thoughts

I love this Beautycounter sunscreen, but I am not saying you have to buy this product in particular. At the very least, I hope you use these guidelines to choose a sunscreen that works for your lifestyle and health needs. Remember, your skin is your largest organ. Are you taking care of yours?

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