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What is a good facial sunscreen?

Anonymous asked this question in our post on sun tan addiction:

Give us some advice about good sunscreen creams for the face! What are the best ingredients? Do avobenzone and oxybenzone protect as well as titanium oxide and zinc oxide?

The Right Brain Replies:

First of all, Anon, please remember that all UV is not created equal. There’s UVB (that mainly causes sunburn) and UVA that causes the deeper, more serious damage. Both types can be bad for all of your skin, but to protect your face from wrinkles you really need to worry about UVA. Only certain ingredients effecively block UVA – these include physical and chemical UV blockers.

Physical UV blockers

Finely powdered and dispersed minerals and include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. To be precise, these physical blockers filter out both UVA and UVB.

Chemical UVA blockers

Includes avobenzone (a.k.a. Parsol 1789 or methoxydibenzoylmethane) and Mexoryl, a newer, seemingly more effective UVA blocker developed in Europe. Finally, there is Tinosorb, a good UVA+UVB chemical blocker approved for use in clothing but not on the skin.

Both physical and chemical agents have pros and cons: Chemical sunscreens provide invisible coverage but they may not be very long lasting and they may be irritating to some people. The physical blockers last much longer and aren’t irritating, but they are more visible on your skin and they may even clog pores. (By the way, some of the newer, “micronized” physical blockers claim to offer better transparency.) They also don’t penetrate your skin so they may be easier to rub off.

So which ingredient is best? There’s no single, perfect answer for everyone. But armed with the information we’ve just provided, you can make smarter choices about what kind of products to try and hopefully you’ll find one that’s right for you.

Finally, remember that even the best sunscreens aren’t perfect: they don’t block ALL the UV, they can be easily rubbed or washed off, and they need to be reapplied. Don’t over do your sun exposure even when you do use sunscreens!