Do you know what’s in your sunscreen?
You’d better. Cos not all of them protect you from UVA rays. Some are lazy and only keep you safe from their UVB cousins. They can get away with this because SPF only refers to the level of protection from UVB rays. Crazy, I know!
If you can’t read those undecipherable labels, how can you tell if your sunscreen is doing its duty or slacking on the job?
Before you panic at the thought of going anywhere near those labels, worry not. I’ve put together this short guide with the most common active ingredients (the UV filters) found in sunscreen and the kind of protection they give you.
Before you pick up your next bottle of sunscreen, make sure it has at least one UVA filter in it:
Avobenzone: usually listed as Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane on the label (just to make your life more complicated), it protects against the entire UVA range. It degrades (stops working) quickly when exposed to light, so use it with ingredients that can help it last longer, such as Octocrylene, Mexoryl, or Tinosorb.
Benzophenones: a group of sunscreen ingredients that include Oxybenzone, Methanone, Benzophenone-3 and anything else that ends in “benzone” or “benzophenone”. They protect from all UVB and some UVA rays but can irritate sensitive skin.
Cinoxate: a sunscreen agent that offers full UVB and little UVA protection.
Ensulizole: aka Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid, it provides full UVB and minimal UVA protection. It’s water-soluble and feels very light on the skin.
Homosalate: it provides full UVB and minimal UVA protection. It can be used only in concentrations up to 10%.
Menthyl Anthranilate: aka Meradimate, it protects from some, but not all UVA rays. It’s rarely used in the USA and banned in Europe and Japan.
Mexoryl SX: aka Ecamsule and terephthalylidine dicamphor sulfonic acid (that’s usually how it disguises itself on the label), it’s developed and patented by L’Oreal. It protects against UVA rays and degrades more slowly when exposed to sunlight than other ingredients like Avobenzone.
Mexoryl XL: aka Drometrizole Trisiloxane, it’s developed and patented by L’Oreal too. It protects against UVB rays. It’s oil soluble so great for outdoors activities.
Octinoxate: aka Octyl Methoxycinnamate, it protects from UVB rays. It’s also soluble so great for outdoor activities. Some studies show it can generate free radicals so don’t forget to pile up your antioxidant serum beforehand.
Octisalate: aka octyl salicylate and ethylhexyl salicylate, it protects only from UVB rays.
Octocrylene: a weak UVB filter. It helps to stabilize Avobenzone but can cause irritations.
Tinosorb: Tinosorb S (bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine) and Tinosorb M (methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol) offer protection from all UVA and some UVB rays. Tinosorb S is water soluble while Tinosorb M is oil soluble. Both are photostable and can help other UV filters, such as Avobenzone, last longer, too.
Titanium Dioxide: a white mineral that protects against the entire UVB range but only half of the UVA range. It doesn’t irritate skin but can leave a white cast.
Trolamine Salicylate: a UVB filter.
Zinc Oxide: a white mineral that protects from the entire UV range (finally!). It’s very gentle and non-irritating but leaves a white cast on the skin.
In case you’re wondering, all my fave sunscreens use zinc oxide. It provides broad spectrum protection without irritating my skin, saving me the headache of having to decipher the whole ingredient list. You can find my fave zinc oxide sunscreens here.
How does your sunscreen fare? Let me know in the comments if it passed the test.