Best sunscreens to take care of your skin by an expert dermatologist

Nowadays we find a lot of information on the Internet about how we should protect ourselves from the sun and which are the best sunscreens. However, there are not many articles that explain the real importance of choosing the right sunscreen. the best sun protection cream for healthy skin

Before you start reading this post consider my position as a dermatologist regarding sun exposure. You are allowed to have fun in the sun and do all the activities you love, as long as you do it wisely!

I was also of the generation that did not protect ourselves from the sun during adolescence, partly because there was no information about the harm of sun exposure. The good news is that more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of sun protection. This is very important in order to have much healthier skin and to avoid complications from chronic sun exposure in the future. 

Surfer with surfboard on the bike protecting himself from the sun
In Bali, enjoying one of my passions but never forgetting sun protection.

What will I talk about in this post?

My name is Sebastian Podlipnik, I am a dermatologist and I love outdoor activities such as nature walks, surfing and skiing. Although these are activities that take place in areas with significant sun exposure, I always use effective sunscreen to protect my skin from the harmful effects of the sun.

I currently work in the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona where I dedicate much of my time to the treatment and prevention of skin cancer. In addition, I work in the Dermatological Diagnosis Clinic where I specialize in the aesthetic treatment of the manifestations produced by the sun.

One of my great passions is the study and treatment of diseases caused by chronic sun exposure (exposoma). Recently, I participated in a live on instagram explaining many of the questions that my patients ask me day by day. I leave them below or you can jump directly to my recommendations for the best sunscreens. 

Is there such a thing as a healthy tan?

Historically, our culture has associated tanning with health and attractiveness. However, in reality There is NO such thing as a healthy tan!

Regardless of the amount of sun you are exposed to, once you are exposed to UV radiation damage will begin to occur to our skin. This radiation will act on our DNA generating free radicals and our cells will increase melanin production. in an attempt to protect the skin from further damage. The increase in melanin causes your skin to darken producing the tan.

Remember that our skin has memory and the real problem is that we progressively accumulate sun damage on our skin. Eventually this sun damage will manifest itself as spots or even with a skin cancer such as melanoma.  

If your goal is to get a nice tan, consider using self-tanning lotions, gels or "sunless" sprays that temporarily tint the skin. However, you will still need sun protection, as these products do not protect against sunburn. 

Reconsider whether you really need a tan to look good. After all, today's glowing tan will be tomorrow's wrinkled, blotchy skin. Or, worse, you may end up with skin cancer.

The benefits of protecting yourself from the sun

Taking care of yourself from the sun has many benefits for your skin. Photoprotection is essential for maintaining healthy skin, minimizing brown spots and preventing photoaging and the possibility that you may have an unhealthy skin condition. skin cancer.

Dermatologists believe that effective photoprotection should be that of no tanning. Sun protection measures include avoiding the sun, trying to seek shade, wearing photoprotective clothing, using wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, and applying broad-spectrum sunscreens. Ref

Illustration showing the advantages of using the best sunscreens

Prevents premature skin aging

The so-called "photoaging" or premature aging of the skin due to the sun is the most common cause of premature skin aging. result of chronic exposure to unprotected UV rays or tanning booths. It manifests itself as "leathery skin", wrinkled, with dark spots and sensitive.

Unprotected exposure to harmful UV rays irreversibly decompose collagen and elastic fibers. of young and healthy skin, which will eventually lead to skin thinning and wrinkles. On the other hand, frequent sunburns or tanning can cause permanent darkening of the skin, resulting in the appearance of the following sun spots or senile spots on the face. 

Several scientific studies have shown that the regular use of photoprotectors prevents premature skin aging.Ref

Woman modeling sun damage caused by not using the best sunscreens

Prevents skin cancer

Once the skin is exposed to UV radiation, melanin production increases in an attempt to protect the skin from further damage.

Studies suggest that tanning greatly increases the risk of developing skin cancer. And, contrary to popular belief, tanning does not protect the skin from sunburn or other skin damage. The extra melanin in tanned skin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) of about 2 to 4.Ref

If you would like to read more about it, I recently wrote an article on the different types of skin cancer that exist and also how we can detect a malignant skin lesion early.

Several scientific studies have shown that effective sun protection prevents melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.Ref 

How does a sunscreen work?

UV filters used in sunscreens can be either organic (also known as chemicals) or inorganic (also known as minerals). Although these terms are used interchangeably, organic and inorganic filters are the terms recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The chemical sunscreensThe active ingredients, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone, work by absorbing UV rays and triggering a chemical reaction that transforms UV rays into heat.

The protectores solares minerales mechanically block sun and UV rays by creating a barrier on the skin. Think of them as a plane of reflective glass: the rays hit the sunscreen and bounce back, protecting the skin underneath from damage. The two ingredients used to create a physical sunscreen are the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

infographic showing the differences between chemical and physical sunscreens

My selection of the best sunscreens

These days, no sunscreen seems to be perfect, and the best we can do is stay on top of new research. With so many options available, how do you choose a sunscreen that's right for you?

I believe that the The best sunscreen is the one that is used on a regular basis, as long as it provides safe and effective protection and is broad-spectrum. That said, I will now leave you with a selection of my favorite sunscreens. 

Handsome guys at the beach using the best sunscreens

What to look for when choosing your sunscreen.

  • Broad spectrum: Protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays.

  • SPF 30 or higher: Ideal for daily and occasional exposure, such as walking the dog or driving to work.

  • SPF 30-50: Necessary for prolonged outdoor activities such as long distance running, hiking, swimming and outdoor sports. SPF 50 is a must if you work outdoors.

  • Waterproof and highly water resistant: For swimming or intense exercise. No sunscreen is 100% water resistant; they all eventually wear off. Sunscreens labeled as water resistant are proven to be effective for up to 40 minutes of swimming, while sunscreens are proven to be effective for up to 40 minutes of swimming. highly water resistant remain effective for up to 80 minutes in water.

  • Even when it is cloudyUp to 80% of the sun's UV radiation reaches the earth. Going without protection on a cloudy day can cause skin damage.

Fortunately nowadays our patients are more aware of sun protection and are applying sunscreen more frequently. This will undoubtedly help us reduce the risk of skin cancer and prevent skin aging in the future.

Best facial sunscreens

sunscreens-face

If I only had to choose one cream to prevent aging, it would undoubtedly be sunscreen. We dermatologists insist on this over and over again because it is one of the best ways (if not the best!) to protect your skin, regardless of your basal tone.

My favorites

Best body sunscreens

couple at sunset with a bottle of sunscreen looking for the best sunscreens

A safe and effective sunscreen is as important for the body as it is for the face. A necessary thing about these sunscreens is that they must be easy to apply. 

My favorites

Best sunscreens for athletes

One of my great passions is playing sports outdoors. And that's why I'm always looking for the best sunscreens for every moment. Now, depending on the sport we do it will be necessary to choose one cream or another. To make it simpler I will divide water sports versus the rest. 

Beautiful female athlete exercising.
Sports in general

For those athletes who enjoy outdoor activities and are looking for a sunscreen that is effective and above all does not sting the eyes.

My favorites

Sebastian surfing with the best sun protection
Water sports

It is very difficult to maintain adequate protection during the practice of water sports. In these cases we need a photoprotector highly water resistantthat provides protection against UVA and UVB rays. They usually contain inorganic filters such as non-nano zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide that leave the face white.

My favorites

Best sunscreens for children

Mother holds her baby in her arms while exposed to the sun with sunscreen

Safe and effective sunscreen is even more important in children than in adults. We now know that sun exposure during childhood and adolescence increases the risk of developing skin cancer in adulthood.Ref Therefore, sun protection should be applied from childhood.

My favorites

Best lip sunscreens

happy-smile-lips

Do not forget that the lips also suffer from chronic sun exposure and can be the cause of actinic cheilitis or even malignant lesions. That is why it is very important to protect them adequately.

My favorites

Best sunscreens for pregnant women

Pregnant women are more prone to sunburn and hyperpigmentation due to hormonal changes. I thought it was the right thing to do to write a whole article on photoprotection during this period.

What does SPF mean in a sunscreen?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number indicates the time it would take for the sun's UVB rays to redden your skin if you apply sunscreen exactly as directed, compared to the time it would take without sunscreen.

Thus, if you use a product with SPF 30 correctly, it would take you 30 times longer to get sunburnt than if you do not use any sunscreen at all.

Nowadays, natural sunscreens with nanoparticles are very fashionable. Perhaps you are not very sure about using them because you have heard some alarming and contradictory information that makes you doubt their safety and efficacy. But what are nanoparticles and are they really safe?

Sunscreen with nanoparticles

Sunscreens with nanoparticles are actually nothing new and have been used since the 1990s. 

What are nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles are incredibly small particles of a given substance. They measure less than 100 nanometers thick which would be 1000 times smaller than the thickness of a hair.

In the case of sunscreens, the nanoparticles in question are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients are broken down into ultrafine particles before being added to the sunscreen. That is why when we talk about mineral sunscreens there are those that have nanoparticles and those that do not, depending on the size of their particles. 

What are the advantages of sunscreens with nanoparticles?

When it comes to choosing your natural mineral sunscreen, you have two options: those with nanoparticles and those without. The difference between the two will be noticeable on your skin.

In its normal form, without nanoparticles, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are quite white. Think of the stereotypical lifeguard with the white on the back of his nose: yes, that's zinc oxide.

Now, nanoparticles. Sunscreens made from micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are much better absorbed on the skin and do not leave a pasty appearance. 

Are sunscreens with nanoparticles safe?

Some have questioned the safety of these micronized particles. Because they are so small, they can be absorbed through the skin and into the body. How much is absorbed and how deeply they penetrate depends on how small the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide particles are and how they are administered.

As far as we know, it does not appear that zinc oxide or titanium dioxide nanoparticles are harmful in any way. In vivo human skin penetration studies showed that the nanoparticles did not penetrate the stratum corneum, which is the most superficial layer of the epidermis.Ref

If you are nevertheless concerned about nanoparticles, you may want to avoid micronized titanium dioxide products altogether, as it is this ingredient that has been linked to potential health problems. However, remember that most of these problems were due to inhalation or ingestion of titanium dioxide nanoparticles from studies in laboratory rats, not skin absorption.Ref

Sunscreen and vitamin D

Women eating fatty fish, vitamin D, cheese, and sunbathing

For years there has been controversy over safe levels of sun exposure. Some suggest that we should not limit sun exposure too much, because the sun helps to increase vitamin D stores by converting the inactive forms of the vitamin in the skin to the active form.

However, this reaction that occurs in our skin takes much less time than tanning and can be achieved in a few minutes even when wearing sunscreen.Ref

A short time ago I wrote an article about how much sun should I really get to produce vitamin D? in case you have any doubts about it. In my opinion, it doesn't make much sense to justify sunbathing and tanning by invoking the health benefits of vitamin D.

Do sunscreen creams expire?

 Most skin care products contain a small symbol that tells us how long after opening the product to throw it away. It is included on all sun creams and looks something like this:

symbols showing the period after sunscreen opening

This symbol indicates the PAO, which stands for "Period After Opening". If it says 6M it means that you have to throw the product away after 6 months of opening.

Does sunscreen harm the environment?

It is estimated that up to 14,000 tons of UV filters are released annually onto coral reefs. Oxybenzone was included in the Environmental Protection Agency's High Production Volume Challenge Program, which identifies ingredients manufactured or imported into the United States in quantities equal to or greater than 1 million pounds per year. In one study, organic filters were found to cause coral bleaching and coral death. Ref

However, a study conducted on Oahu, Hawaii, showed that the concentrations detected in seawater were 1,000 times lower than those reported to be cytotoxic to coral reefs in vitro.Ref 

Multiple studies have concluded that warming ocean water and sea pollution are the main factors contributing to coral bleaching. In many parts of the world, due to the availability of other filters, oxybenzone is no longer commonly used in sunscreens.Ref

Final photoprotection tips

We have already seen which are the best sunscreens for your skin care depending on the activities you do. Now I leave you with some final photoprotection tips.

  • Stay out of the sun during peak hours (from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in most of Spain)

  • Use other methods to protect yourself from the sun such as avoiding the sun, trying to find shade, wearing photoprotective clothing, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.

  • Use sunscreen regularly: choose a sunscreen that offers an SPF of at least 30 and protects against both UVA and UVB radiation (also called "broad spectrum").

  • Reapply at least every two to three hours, and more often if you have sweated, swum or rubbed your skin with a towel.

  • Wear protective clothing: a long-sleeved shirt, a wide-brimmed hat and long pants offer good protection against sun exposure. Dark, tight-fitting fabrics are best.

  • Check the local UV index, that predicts the level of UV radiation and indicates the risk of overexposure in a given area. scale from 0 (low) to 11 or more (extremely high). You can usually see it on your smartphone's weather app.

These measures are most effective in combination, and are especially important for children or anyone with fair skin. Remember that you can burn even on cloudy days.

What did you think of this article? I hope it has helped you to join all of us who are already protecting ourselves from the sun. to have healthier skin and prevent photoaging and photocarcinogenesis in the future.

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Sebastian Podlipnik - Skin cancer

Sebastian Podlipnik

Dermatology Blog

I am a dermatologist and cum laude MD and author of multiple research studies. I specialize in skin cancer, laser technologies and cosmetic dermatology. The intention of this blog is to bring you closer to topics of interest in dermatology and research.

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