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A Skin Therapist's complete guide to sun protection + bonus sunscreen recommendations.

I get asked this question almost every week "what's your favourite sunscreen recommendation?" which is usually followed by "I prefer natural sunscreens over chemical based sunscreens" (more on this later).


I also get asked a lot of questions around applying sunscreen too. And I LOVE these questions, I am so happy that you want to prevent premature ageing and lessen your chances of a skin cancer! #skinnerdalert


In this blog article I am going to answer all of your commonly asked questions about sun protection, some facts you might not have known and also my most up-to-date sunscreen product recommendations. You will also get a glimpse into how I go about applying sunscreen, how I think about it and my personal approach to testing skincare ingredients. Quick disclaimer about natural sunscreens: Now, it is important to know that is a 'popular opinion' that 'natural' sunscreen actives are better than 'chemical' sunscreen actives. And although I do have my own personal preferences, I don't think that one is better than the other. I use science and cosmetic chemistry to guide my opinion around this touchy subject. Unfortunately out there on the world wide web, there is a lot of unjustified propaganda demonising the use of chemical sunscreens and green washing us to believe that only natural sunscreens are best. Natural sunscreen companies are sometimes the culprits. It is important to note that there are a lot of terrible chemical sunscreens out there, for multiple reasons. In general they can be a little harder to navigate and understand, however they are not entirely bad (more on this soon).


In this blog post I am hoping to provide education around the sunscreen confusion of 'natural versus chemical' as well as providing safe and effective sunscreen recommendations (found at the bottom of this blog article).


PS. This article does NOT contain affiliate links and I have never received payment or sponsorship from any of the below sunscreens. I do however, stock one of the sunscreens here in-clinic on on my online store.


Why sunscreen?


As Australians, we have been taught from a very young age to "slip, slop, slap, seek and slide" which is an easy to remember euphemism for protecting yourself from the sun. It includes 'slipping' on protective clothing, 'slopping' on sunscreen, 'slapping' on a hat, 'seeking' shade when necessary and 'sliding' on a pair of polarised sunglasses.


Easy to remember?

Yes.


Easy to apply?

Maybe not, it takes diligence and commitment to protect your skin from the sun. However, this shouldn't be an excuse when your health is at risk.


According to the Cancer Council, "Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Each year almost 2000 Australians die from this almost entirely preventable disease". This alone should be enough reason to protect yourself from the sun.


As a Skin Therapist, I always ask about your skin cancer history. And although I tend to look after and treat younger females (between 20 + 30 years of age) I have heard my fair share of skin cancer stories from those who fall into this age bracket. Skin cancer isn't just an older persons disease. We are all at risk.


Applying sunscreen should be just as important as brushing your teeth, wearing clean clothing and eating a balanced diet.


PS. Getting regular skin cancer check up's is also extremely important, most doctors and dermatologists will recommend you to do them every 1 - 2 years depending on your circumstance.


My top 5 reasons for wearing a sunscreen daily:

  1. To lessen your chances of getting a skin cancer

  2. To protect yourself from a sunburn (sun burn is radiation damage)

  3. To prevent and reduce wrinkles (the sun ages your skin - very fast)

  4. To prevent and reduce pigmentation (dark patches + age spots)

  5. To set a good example for younger people (sunscreen is cool!)

Natural versus Chemical - which is better?


As a Skin Therapist I support the use of both natural and chemical sunscreens and I don't necessarily have a personal preference. They both have their pro's and con's which I will list below. To continue the discussion on this topic, I thought that it might be helpful for you to understand WHY there is so much talk on the chemical versus natural sunscreen ingredient debate. Here are the main points you need to know:

  • Natural sounds better and safer As a consumer, it feels safer to choose a natural sunscreen option. This is the main point that drives us to feel like it is the best option.

  • Chemical sounds scary The word chemical can sound unsafe and complicated. This is the polarising reason why we tend to avoid chemical sunscreens.

  • Poor performing chemical sunscreens Unfortunately certain skincare brands have created sub-par chemical sunscreen products that have caused adverse effects for consumers, leading to sun burns and skin irritations. Every-time this happens, you will generally hear about this in news headlines and on social media warning consumers to avoid the product. This is fantastic that we can spread news like this, but unfortunately, this news has caused a natural aversion to chemical sunscreens.

  • Possible endocrine disrupting chemical sunscreen ingredients There is evidence that some chemical sunscreen actives are potentially dangerous and might have an effect on the endocrine system. However, this is only the case for some chemical sunscreen actives, and for safety reasons, I will never recommend a product that contains these ingredients.

  • There are more chemical sunscreen ingredients versus natural In cosmetic chemistry, there are technically only two natural sunscreen ingredients (Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide) versus the hundred of different chemical sunscreen ingredients. This leaves us feeling overwhelmed and more likely to choose the simple option.

Natural (aka Physical, Mineral or Inorganic)

Ingredients: Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide

Pro's + Zinc oxide is anti-inflammatory when applied to skin

Con's - Most natural sunscreens leave a white cast (hard to avoid)

- It's hard to find one with a nice texture

- The texture is generally heavier and greasier

- Zinc oxide nanoparticles are potentially dangerous (but hardly used anymore)


Chemical (aka Organic)

Ingredients: Everything else apart from Zinc and Titanium

Pro's

+ They generally feel nicer on your skin

+ Spreadability is generally nicer

+ They don't leave a white cast and they sink into your skin


Con's - Some chemical filters are potential endocrine (hormone) disrupters

- Some chemical filters aren't as effective as others

- It's hard to keep up with the emerging science, updates on existing sunscreen ingredients and new chemical sunscreen ingredients being developed


It's hard to answer 'which is better' because both types of sunscreen ingredients have their own unique pro's and con's.


But hopefully with everything listed above, you are feeling empowered to make your own informed decision on this topic.


Sunscreen myths:


I will note that there are also a LOT of sunscreen myths out there on the internet. I could write a whole other article on this, but if you are wanting to learn more about the do's and don'ts on sunscreen then please check out Michelle from Lab Muffin. She is a science educator with a PhD in chemistry, based in Sydney, Australia. She has spoken extensively on this topic and is a self proclaimed sunscreen nerd (and I love it!). She is the best source (I have come across) for understanding the myths around sunscreen. Some of my favourite Lab Muffin sunscreen articles/videos can be found below:


How I test sunscreen ingredients:


My approach as a Skin Therapist is to carefully inspect and analyse all ingredients found within a sunscreen before purchasing and applying to my skin, whether it is 'natural' or 'chemical'. I test a sunscreen based on the following categories;


  1. Safety and efficacy Are the ingredients safe for human use? Do the sunscreen ingredients work? Are the ingredients damaging to skin health? If a sunscreens ingredient list doesn't pass this step, I won't recommend it.

  2. How it looks and feels on skin Is the sunscreen enjoyable to rub into my skin? How does the sunscreen look on my skin? Does it leave a white case on my skin? This is so important because if you don't enjoy using it on your skin, you are less likely to use it.

  3. The price point Is the price affordable for daily use? If a sunscreen is perceived as 'expensive' we are less likely to wear the correct amount of it which puts us at a higher risk of sun damage and reduces the amount of coverage we are getting.

  4. Functionality Is the sunscreen functional and enjoyable to use? Does the packaging encourage me to use the sunscreen? If a sunscreen tube or container is hard to use, most will avoid using it. Sunscreen should be easy.

My personal approach to sunscreen:


Daily use

eg. Mostly indoors, driving, short walks and wearing SPF under makeup

- I choose to wear the Dermaviduals SPF 15 (chemical) for daily use as it provides 93% coverage against UVA and UVB filters, enough coverage for incidental sun exposure. I sell this sunscreen here in-clinic and on my private (client only) online store in case you were wondering. PS. Yes, it is acne safe, but it also provides moisturising and skin barrier healing benefits. It rubs in well to the skin and the ingredients are safe and effective (no endocrine disrupters). So many of my clients LOVE this product and commit to wearing it on a daily basis, which makes me so proud and happy!


- I will apply just under 1 teaspoon of this product to my face, neck and décolletage (I have a small head) and then I will apply 1/2 - 1 teaspoon to the remaining areas left exposed such as the backs of my hands, my forearms, my ears and the back of my neck. - I don't reapply this sunscreen after 2 hours unless I know that I will be in the sun for more than 5 minutes. If I am wearing makeup I will simply pat the sunscreen on over makeup after warming the product in my hands first.


Occasional use

eg. Exercising outdoors, spending more than 10 minutes outside

- I will use a variety of different zinc based (natural) sunscreens that are SPF 30 and above. A SPF 30 will provide 96.7% coverage and an SPF 50 will provide 97 - 98% coverage. My current go-to is the Sukin SPF 30 Sheer Touch Tinted Face Sunscreen for my face and the Life Basics SPF 30 All Natural Facial Sunscreen for my body.

I will talk more about these sunscreens later in this blog post because they have their pro's and con's thats for sure.

- I will always prefer a tinted sunscreen for my face over a white based sunscreen as it will provide a sheer colour coverage and is less likely to leave a white cast. As a Fitzpatrick type 3 skin, most tinted sunscreens suit my skin, however I do know that those of a Fitzpatrick type 1 - 2 and 5 - 6 tend to find it difficult to find a tinted sunscreen to suit their skin colour.

- I will apply 20 minutes before heading outdoors and I will reapply every 2 hours.

- If I am sweating excessively or swimming, I will chose the Ecotan Natural Rosehip Sunscreen SPF 30 which is water and sweat resistant or I will use one of my new facvourites, the Avocado Zinc SPF 50 which has both of the above qualities.

- I also make sure to protect myself with a hat, clothing and shade when necessary.


My sunscreen product recommendations:


This is an ever growing list and it will surely change as I find new and exciting sunscreen brands to test and try! But as of April 2021 these are the sunscreens that I am fond of. FYI, I have personally tested and looked into the ingredients in the sunscreen's below. I am happy with all of the ingredients contained within them, but some do have their disadvantages (which are listed in the con's section in each sunscreen). PS. For your convenience I have ordered them in order of my most loved to least loved.


  1. Dermaviduals SPF 15 My goto all time favourite chemical sunscreen that my clients absolutely LOVE. + Ingredients are amazing + Acne safe sunscreen + Will provide healing to an impaired barrier + Sinks in well to the skin and moisturises at the same time + Leaves no white cast and leaves a glowing look on the skin + Price point is fair at $60 for 50mls - Not suitable for outdoor activities and extended hours of exposure to the sun Available for purchase on our client only online store or in-clinic.

  2. Avocado Zinc SPF 50 My new favourite mineral SPF 50 to wear during outdoor activities when sweating. + Leaves little to no white case (sheer) + Leaves skin feeling hydrated + Nice smooth texture with no Zinc Oxide grains + Price point is great at $40 for 100mls + Aussie made (Perth) + Loved by other Skin Therapists + Corneotherapists + Water and sweat resistant - Avocado oil isn't acne safe and is comedogenic - Can feel a little heavy when first applied (sinks in eventually) - Because of how heavy it feels it is tempting to apply less than is recommended - Only available online (and maybe one day here in-clinic if enough clients love it)

  3. Sukin Sheer Touch Tinted Face Sunscreen SPF 30 My go-to tinted mineral SPF for light outdoor activities. + Feels light on the skin and sinks in well + The tint matches my skin colour almost perfectly + The price point is great at $24.95 for 50mls + Really easy to get your hands on this as it is sold just about everywhere + Seems to be acne safe based on ingredients (not tested) - Contains fragrance (parfume) which can be sensitising to some skins - Fragrance can be photo-toxic which is a risk you take when wearing this - Some of my clients have had a reaction to this product (high demand skins)

  4. MooGoo SPF 40 My go-to mineral SPF recommendation for the most barrier impaired skin's. + Ingredients are very calming and healing + Great price point at $19.90 for 120mls + Texture feels nice and product leaves skin feeling hydrated - Does leave a white case - Some clients don't love the heaviness of this product - Not acne safe, Beeswax is comedogenic

  5. 100 % Pure Green Tea SPF 30 A moisturising mineral SFP that feels nice upon application. + Feels nice on the skin and provides moisturising benefits + Fair price point at $39.95 for 83mls - Leaves a slight white cast - The smell is odd, but not terrible - Not acne safe, avocado oil and other oils in this are comedogenic