As promised: my epic skin care post!
First: a quick sunscreen update: despite my previous post, I find I’m still reaching for the Paula’s Choice Resist Cellular Defense most mornings. I just like it so much more than anything else I’ve tried. I do choose the PC Skin Recovery kind if I’m going to spend a lot of time outdoors, since I feel better protected with its combination of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. And I tested (on my arms only, not face) samples of the Biore Watery Essence and Biore Watery Gel I talked about in that post. Honestly, I can’t tell much difference between them. They both have a pleasant citrusy scent which fades quickly after application. They offer excellent UVA and UVB protection, but they do contain quite a bit of alcohol and that tends to dry me out. Plus they’re chemical sunscreens, not physical. I guess the bottom line is, they don’t check enough of my boxes. I can see keeping them around for arms and legs, though.
Other people gave lots of good recommendations in the comments of last month’s post, so if you’re hunting, check them out.
I’ve learned a lot about skin care in the past few months. Several members of my family suffer from an extreme dry skin condition. It isn’t eczema; it isn’t psoriasis; it’s a diagnosed condition with a long name, and what it means is: their skin doesn’t produce enough oil and is seriously, even painfully dry. Many doctors have recommended treatments over the years. Nothing worked. Neither did natural remedies such as coconut oil. If you’re tempted to suggest it, odds are that we tried it. It has been a long and frustrating journey.
But suddenly, things have changed. Like: massively changed. What happened is: during my sunscreen research, I got sucked into the fascinating world of Asian Beauty forums, and I. have. learned. so. much. While Western cosmetic science focuses on makeup, Korea and Japan tend to put their research funding toward skin. Conventional wisdom says Korean skin science is about ten years ahead of American.
As a result of my skin-science reading binge, the most game-changing element for me was the realization that the various products our pediatricians have recommended over the years might have worked if we’d known to layer them. Frankly, I’m a little frustrated with the dermatology department at our local children’s hospital. One year: “Use this!” The next appointment: “Hmm, okay try this instead.” “Still no better? Honestly, we’re stumped.” (That is a paraphrase but just barely.)
I’ll skip the narrative and cut to the point: I realized that we needed not one treatment but a variety of them, in layers, used consistently.
- A gentle chemical exfoliant to remove dead skin cells;
- A humectant to hydrate the skin (and this is where our newly embraced secret weapon comes in; see below);
- A moisturizer containing lipids and ceramides to restore oil to the skin (just as Step 2 restores water); and
- An emollient to seal in all this nourishing oil and water (when weather permits).
If you’re at all familiar with the Korean approach to skin care, you know that layering is a key aspect: combining different products that do different jobs. This can involve many, many steps (and products), or just a few. The basic elements are: cleansing; actives (such as the chemical exfoliants I mentioned in our Step 1; more on that in a minute); toners and essences; serums and ampoules; moisturizers; sunscreen. For a more thorough explanation, see this post by Tracy of Fanserviced-B. What I’m talking about in this post is a subset of the above—you’ll note that the Very Important cleansing and sunscreen steps are not included in my little list up there.
My steps 1-4 up there refer specifically to treating my kids’ super-dry arms and legs. Their skin needs oil, and it needs water. For years, we have tried doggedly to make that happen from within, through diet—and, as I said, from without, via the treatments our doctors have recommended over the years. But trust me when I say that nothing made much difference. Dry, prickly, bumpy skin that stung in hot weather.
But now, just as summer rolls in (note: I started this post a month ago!), it’s gone. It’s healing. It’s comfortable skin. I’m overjoyed for them.
Step 1. Exfoliate.
Physical exfoliants are things like scrubs and pastes. The gritty elements may be sugar, salt, microbeads (ugh), or ground up husks of various sorts. Most scrubs are too harsh for my kids’ delicate skin (and too harsh for your face too, so be cautious). However, a gentle sugar scrub can be useful if you have a lot of hard, dead skin to slough off. You can make one with olive or coconut oil and sugar. (Some people find coconut oil irritates their skin, so patch test your recipes.)
Chemical exfoliants use gentle acids such as lactic acid and glycolic acid (AHAs) or salicylic acid (BHA) to break down and remove dead skin. Many facial products contain these alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids as well. For example, the well known Stridex pads in the red box contain BHA. Your favorite foot cream may well contain an AHA.
(I rewatched Mean Girls recently and got a big laugh out of the scene when Cady and Janice spike evil Regina’s face cream with foot lotion. Their secret plan to wreck her complexion comes to naught—possibly because the AHA in that foot lotion would actually be great for Regina’s face.)
(Peppermint, though. Not great on the face.)
For years (on and off), I have used a 5% AHA treatment from Paula’s Choice for exfoliating my face. I love this product. Quite gentle but very effective. I find that every-other-day usage is the right amount for my skin; more than that and I start to show the telltale signs of overexfoliation: red, tight, shiny skin (for me it’s always right beside my nose). I learned quickly to pace it correctly. Other people have good effects with daily usage and even stronger percentages of AHA.
*Note on Paula’s Choice links: these are not affiliate links, but if you are a first-time customer, you can use my Refer-a-Friend code and both of us will get a $10 reward coupon. Amazon links in this post are affiliate links.
Another reason the Mean Girls foot lotion made me smile was because a certain brand of foot lotion was one of the products urged upon us by a dermatologist some years back. If that doctor had encouraged us to follow it with the darn-near miracle product coming in Step 2, and then to follow that with a good moisturizer, we might have gotten somewhere. But nope. But that foot lotion did contain an AHA which helped with exfoliation.
Another oft-recommended treatment was Amlactin. As the name suggests, it contains lactic acid—one of the gentlest AHAs. The kids always said it stung and they dreaded having to put it on. Again, I now believe that was due in part to its being used solo. Steps 2-4 would have helped enormously.
For my kids’ dry skin, what I’m using now for Step 1 is (on alternate nights):
Paula’s Choice Resist 10% AHA Body Lotion
Cerave Skin Renewing Lotion with BHA
Eventually we will cut this down to a single exfoliant product, probably the Cerave because it’s more affordable and I love the formulation. Lots of ceramides to repair the skin barrier. Also, the Paula’s Choice AHA smells a wee bit vinegary. (Common for AHA products. The 5% face stuff above smells more like citrus than vinegar to me and I don’t mind it at all.)
Step 2: Hydrate.
(Cue trumpets, because this is the product that deserves some serious fanfare.)
Hada Labo Rohto Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion.
Hyaluronic acid is the bomb, you guys. You’ll find it in a number of creams and lotions, and Paula’s Choice even sells it as a booster serum that you can add to your favorite product.
The Asian beauty forums are filled with paeans to the Hada Labo lotion, and for good reason. This is an affordable product ($12 on Amazon Prime) that hydrates like nothing I’ve ever seen. A little goes a long way, so a bottle lasts a long time. The consistency is not what Americans typically consider lotion—it’s thin and slippery, like a really really watery serum. Sort of. I squeeze a few drops, no more, into my hand and it slides on like water. Delicious. It leaves your skin feeling a tiny bit sticky at first and then soaks in, leaving you nice and smooth.
My kids’ dry skin LOVES this stuff. We now have bottles in each bathroom and apply it immediately after showers. And again at night after the exfoliating lotions, before moisturizing.
(Worth noting: there is a “Premium” version of this lotion which is supposed to be even more hydrating. We haven’t tried it yet. Hada Labo also sells a “Shirojyun” lotion which contains arbutin for brightening—which is often described as “whitening” (ugh) on Korean skin care products (although it’s about improving skin tone, not bleaching skin—perish the thought). Arbutin freaks me out, so if you’re wanting the hydrating product, be sure to look for Gokujyun, not Shirojyun.)
(Another note: I like to use a couple drops of Hada Labo Gokujyun Lotion on my face in the morning mixed with two drops of Vitamin C booster as a nourishing serum to follow my hydrating toner—but that takes us into my personal skin care routine, which is a WHOLE OTHER SUBJECT. A subject with layers. Many layers. And weird stuff like snail mucin (I know, I know) and propolis. Not to mention sheet masks. I do love me some skin care!)
Step 3: Moisturize.
This step is all about lipids and rich, nourishing ingredients. And I mean, this is the step I’ve excelled at, all these years. Hail to the rich, thick moisturizer! Aveeno oatmeal lotion was recommended to us early on, and it is excellent stuff; it was our family staple for many years. It just wasn’t enough alone.
What we like these days is Cerave-in-the-tub (or “Tubby,” as my children are wont to call it). As you can see on the label, it contains ceramides and—ding ding ding!—hyaluronic acid. It is gorgeously rich and creamy. It looks like something you’d like a dollop of on your bowl of strawberries. It soaks in quickly and doesn’t leave a film. I now use the Hada Labo Lotion / Cerave-in-the-tub combo myself every morning.
Cerave sells a thinner, pump-lotion version of this product as well, which some people prefer because sticking fingers into a tub can be unsanitary. Other folks use a cosmetic spatula instead of dipping fingers. I’ll admit that we are not that fastidious here. We just make sure to wash our hands before dipping in. (You can also find the tub with a pump on it, but I haven’t tried that.)
Step 4: Seal in all the goodness.
Emollients are thicker products made to form a kind of seal or barrier on the skin, keeping moisture in. The most common emollient is probably petroleum jelly. Aquaphor and Eucerin sell popular emollient moisturizers. And there’s Vaseline, of course. But all these products can leave you feeling greasy. We have found the Cerave Healing Ointment to be less greasy—at least until our weather really warmed up. The kids have to skip that step now. It’s a lot less necessary, now that their moisture barrier has healed and their skin is—I can hardly believe it—truly healthy.
These four steps got us to a comfortable place. I think they can cut back on the exfoliants now, going to a few times a week. Steps 2 and 3 are the long-term workhorses. We’ll resume Step 4 when the weather turns again, as needed.
Doctors are great, seriously
Modern medicine has saved the lives of more than one of my children. I don’t mean to drag on doctors, not at all. But I’ve been navigating the system for twenty years now, and, well, sometimes I’ve had to find solutions outside it. If all the different treatments recommended by my kids’ dermatologists over the years had been bundled together (along with a bottle of Hada Labo), we’d have arrived at the Land of Happy Skin much, much sooner. I’m just glad we’re there now.
Related: my ongoing sunscreen saga
Note: this is a very long post about sunscreen. YMMV.
Okay so wayyyyy back in 2007 (about a year after we moved to San Diego, which is no coincidence) I wrote a post about my quest for the perfect sunscreen. By which I meant: a tolerable sunscreen. I am no fan of that typical sunscreen smell, and I can’t tolerate it at ALL on my face. And in my distracted 30s, I mostly didn’t bother. Which: big regrets. There came a point when I realized my freckles were starting to merge into sunspots. Use sunblock, y’all. Every day, in all weathers.
That 2007 post turned up few leads. I was, at the time, feeling uncomfortable about chemical sunscreens like those with oxybenzone as the active ingredient. But mineral sunscreens (active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, about which more later) have their own down sides: mostly notably a tendency toward leaving a white cast on skin, especially darker skin tones. But to be honest, my British Isles ancestry renders it pretty hard to tell if I have a zinc oxide sheen. My skin tone has been referred to affectionately by certain friends as “fish-belly white.” A whole lot of these
sunspots supersized freckles are the result of a doomed effort to achieve the merest shred of tan in my early teens. (What can I say? It was the 80s.)
Sorry, kid, that tan ain’t happening
PSA: Don’t rely on makeup for your sun protection
The longer I lived in SoCal, the less I cared about sunscreen ingredients. That sounds crazy, but it’s just that I learned pretty quickly that in this übersunny climate, the critical thing was that I wear sunblock, no matter what’s in it. I know, I know, hats are our friends, but I have always hated wearing a hat. Just can’t do it. (To Scott’s dismay.) Which means: sun on my face, even if it’s just in the intervals between house and car, car and shop. Which means: sunblock. I tried so many brands, hoping for an odorless kind, or any-odor-but-sunscreen. So many brands. For a while I was interested in mineral foundations containing SPF, but in reading up on them I learned that: 1) they don’t offer sufficient coverage (you would need a heavier layer than anyone wears as foundation); 2) you’re inhaling those tiny particles of active sunscreen ingredients (and bismuth and whatever else is in them), which can’t be good; 3) I can’t stand wearing foundation anyway, even the mineral kind. I am not a makeup person. A swipe of mascara, maybe, if I’m feeling fancy?
My choice from 2012-2016
Eventually I landed on an option I had considered too pricey at first: Paula’s Choice Resist Cellular Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 25. This next bit is going to sound like a commercial, but really it’s just an honest account of my experience. I’ve been using this sunscreen since 2012 (according to my order history). It’s a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen* with active ingredient titanium dioxide (8%). *(Seriously, more on this in a minute.) Why I landed on it: NO AROMA TO SPEAK OF. Definitely no trademark sunscreen smell. And I like its creamy consistency (it has decent moisturizer ingredients but that’s not why I buy it—I use it over a regular moisturizer) and (for me at least) lack of white cast.
I did (and do) wince at the price tag, but as I mentioned, I spend next to nothing on makeup, and nearly all my clothes are purchased with rewards points off the clearance rack. I get four moderately priced haircuts a year and don’t color my hair. (Yet.) So I figured I could justify spending a little more on sunscreen. Plus Paula’s Choice offers frequent sales, free shipping over a minimum order total, and free samples. (For the record, the PC links in this post are not affiliate links, but if you are a new customer and you use my Refer-a-Friend link, we’ll each get a $10 reward code.)
For four years, I’ve been pretty content with this product. It leaves my face a little shiny after application, perhaps? If you wear makeup, that wouldn’t be a problem, but: see above. If I pat it in well and wait a few minutes, the shininess diminishes. I mostly don’t think about it. Can we just call it dewy?
But SPF 25, you’re saying. That’s not high enough. Well, the thing is, the SPF number refers to an amount of time you are protected from UVB rays—the kind of UV exposure that causes sunburn. If you would normally burn after 10 minutes (hello, fishbelly), SPF 25 means you won’t burn until after 250 minutes. So for continuous coverage, you need to reapply.
But you should be doing that anyway, every three hours or so. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens become ineffective after a while, and both chemical and physical sunscreens simply wear off our skin due to sweat and absorption. So for really thorough sun protection, you should be reapplying after two to three hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this until about a year ago, so I was probably a lot less protected than I thought I was.
(Also: if you’re using a chemical sunscreen, you should make sure to apply it 30 minutes before going outside. Your skin needs to absorb it before the protection really kicks in.)
UVB ain’t the half of it
UVB protection is important but it’s UVA rays we really need to watch out for. UVA exposure is what causes wrinkles and discoloration and high risk of skin cancer. And UVA rays pass through glass, so you need protection from them even if you’re in your car, or inside near a window. (As I type, rays are falling across my arms. It’s 4pm and I haven’t reapplied all day. Excuse me for a moment, will you?) (Okay, I’m back.) A sunscreen that boasts “broad spectrum” coverage is promising protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
But even there, you have to make sure those words have you covered—literally. What you really want is full spectrum coverage. Japanese sunscreens tend to be more serious about this than most Western brands. There’s a whole different rating system (PA++++ etc), and this dedication to truly full spectrum coverage is what sends a lot of people to online marketplaces in search of proven brands like Biore.
My unsettling discovery
A few months ago, I ran out of my Cellular Defense, and Paula’s Choice was out of stock. I tried one of her other mineral SPF moisturizers instead—Skin Recovery Daily Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30. It wasn’t love at first smear, but I found it to be an acceptable substitute. Texture: great. Shine factor: possibly a bit better? Aroma: well, you can’t have everything. No sunscreen smell (which I think is probably because it, too, is a mineral sunscreen; I think the scent I so dislike, that strong, sharp fragrance that so immediately evokes the beach and the swimming pool, only not in a good way, is caused by ingredients in chemical sunscreens). Skin Recovery SPF 30 is almost fragrance-less, but when it first goes on there’s a faintly unpleasant scent that fades quickly. Maybe it’s just me.
Since I wasn’t in love with this product, I decided to try something new. A friend of mine had high praise for a particular sunscreen that she absolutely loves, including its light, citrusy scent. It contains oxybenzone but I decided to give it a try nonetheless. Well, it wasn’t for me. The citrus scent was actually pretty nice, but it had a hint of That Sunscreen Smell underneath. Also, I broke out in a pretty intense rash (first time ever!) later that day—but I can’t pinpoint that to the sunscreen because I stupidly tried a new cleanser and skin cream the same day, breaking a cardinal rule of skin care. Don’t try more than one new product at a time, and give it a couple of weeks—better yet, a month—before you add something new.
Okay, so my trial was a bust. I returned to the mineral-sunscreens-only camp and was pleased to see my old Cellular Defense was back in stock. On a BOGO (half off the 2nd), no less. I stocked up.
Finally I’m getting to the thing I said I’d get to in a minute
But my allergic reaction from those other products (we’re talking red, itchy bumps on my entire face and neck) sent me on a quest to identify the particular ingredient I’m sensitive to. I’d like to avoid it in the future. (Understatement.) This quest became a rabbit trail into the fascinating world of skin care ingredients. And one of the things I happened upon was information that suggested titanium dioxide—the active ingredient of my beloved Cellular Defense—offers only partial UVA protection. Here’s one chart showing it covering UVB and UVA2 rays, but not far into the UVA1 range. Gulp.
Zinc oxide appears to cover the whole UVB and UVA spectrum (both UVA1 and 2). I felt stupid: why had I been blindly, blithely skating by with only partial UVA coverage for so many years? After I checked the active ingredients of my backup—the Skin Recovery SPF 30—I felt stupider. Its actives are 3.85% titanium dioxide and 3.12% zinc oxide. I have more reading to do to nail down optimal percentages, but the zinc/titanium combo makes me feel more at ease.
But I know Paula’s Choice is a company with integrity, so I reached out to customer service to express my concerns about the lack of UVA1 coverage in the Cellular Defense. After all, I’ve trusted my face to this product for over four years.
In the interests of information-sharing, here’s the response I received from Paula’s Choice:
Thank you for your email. We appreciate this opportunity to address what you have read about titanium dioxide as a sunscreen ingredient, and to reassure you that our RESIST Cellular Defense SPF 25 definitely provides sufficient UVA/UVB protection. The amount of titanium dioxide in this product is 8, a concentration that provides reliable broad-spectrum protection and we have substantiated this with extensive testing from independent labs.
We’re not sure where the information about titanium dioxide not being a great active sunscreen ingredient came from but the reality is titanium dioxide is a very effective broad-spectrum SPF ingredient and is widely used in all manner of sun protection products worldwide.
What gets confusing for some consumers is trying to decipher research that ranks sunscreen ingredients by a UV spectrum graph or other general references. By most standards, broad-spectrum coverage for any sunscreen ingredient is defined as one that surpasses 350 nanometers (abbreviated as “nm”, this is how the sun’s energy is measured). Titanium dioxide surpasses this measurement, but, like many sunscreen actives, the critical factor is how the ingredient is formulated into a sunscreen product.
Titanium dioxide, when properly formulated, can achieve a wavelength of 380 or higher, which is well within UVA II and UVA I (as well as, of course, UVB) levels and certainly qualifies for broad-spectrum protection. This is not easily understood in terms of other factors affecting how sunscreen actives performs (such as the base formula) so the issue of broad-spectrum protection can get confusing for some. While it is true that some sunscreen ingredients have varying levels of UVA protection, titanium dioxide’s abilities are strongly influenced by the particle size of the raw material—too small or too large and you won’t achieve that critical UVA/UVB level of protection. The right size results in a powerful and reliable sunscreen formula.
You may have heard of the FDA’s revisions and improvements to SPF formula rating standards—all sunscreen products must pass new testing requirements that ensure broad-spectrum UV protection. Our RESIST Cellular Defense SPF 25 far surpassed the new rigorous standards established by the FDA for UVB and UVA protection, and it otherwise would not have been approved for this claim on its packaging.
It is important to note that sunscreen is critical to Paula’s Choice—Paula and her Product Development team would never produce an SPF-rated product that did not provide reliable broad-spectrum protection. Please let us know if you have any additional questions.
PAULA’S CHOICE CUSTOMER CARE
Thank you for this thorough response. The information you have provided is encouraging. Thank you for clarifying the definition of “broad spectrum coverage.” For reference, here is the article I read which alarmed me: http://www.skinacea.com/sunscreen/physical-vs-chemical-sunscreen.html#.V0YAn5MrJoB
It states, “Titanium dioxide protects against UVB rays, but not the full spectrum of UVA rays. Zinc oxide protects against the entire spectrum of UVB and UVA rays. “This chart (http://imgur.com/wDmKmcf) indicates that Titanium dioxide protects against UVB and UVA II rays, but only partial protection against UVA I. On that chart, it looks like the cutoff appears around 345 nanometers. In your response you say, “Titanium dioxide, when properly formulated, can achieve a wavelength of 380 or higher.”Just to clarify, does that mean this particular product (Resist Cellular Defense) achieves 380 nm?
Thank you for your time!
The Paula’s Choice representative responded that she was “reaching out to a member of our team to confirm this information, and will have a response after I receive details from them. Thanks for your patience.”
I really appreciated the effort she made to research the issue rather than give me a pat reply. A few days later, she replied with the following:
Thank you for your patience regarding our reply. I reached out to our Director of Education who also reached out to a member of our Product Development Team to confirm some information. Interestingly enough, it appears that we need to update specific information regarding the previous reply I provided. Here is the current FDA regulated information at this time:
“Broad-spectrum coverage for any sunscreen ingredient is defined as one that surpasses 370 nanometers (according to FDA regulation)
Titanium Dioxide can reach 370 nanometers so it satisfies the Broad Spectrum Coverage requirement however, we are unable to confirm beyond 370 what the specific measure is. So, I cannot confirm completely if it does reach 380 nanometers.
I hope this information is helpful, and let us know if we can assist further.
PAULA’S CHOICE CUSTOMER CARE
Once again I appreciated the effort behind this reply—clearly there was some in-house conversation taking place—but I confess I feel like a crucial bit of info is missing from this answer, which is: “Titanium Dioxide can reach 370 nanometers” (quoting the above) but does the percentage of titanium dioxide in this particular product protect up to 370 nm? I love this product and would be happy to go on slathering it on my face for the rest of my life if I can be assured it offers sufficient UVA protection.
So as I said: research still in progress. In the meantime, I have a small stockpile of Cellular Defense to use up. I could send it back—PC is good about returns, although you have to pay your own shipping—but I think I’ll keep it to use for mostly-indoor and errand-running days. For now, I’m using the Skin Recovery tube for longer outdoor excursions, and I’m once again researching other brands. I ordered samples of the much-beloved-on-serious-skincare-and-k-beauty-forums Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ PA++++ and Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Gel SPF 50+ PA++++ (affiliate links but obviously I have no real experience yet with the product)**, and I am astonished to discover that they DO NOT have That Sunscreen Smell, even though they are chemical sunscreens. Whether my face will like them is another question, and since I’m currently testing a new serum, I can’t embark on a sunscreen test for several weeks. (File under: Lessons Learned.)
(You guys, I keep sitting here sniffing the backs of my hands. I’ve got the Biore Watery Gel on one hand and Watery Essence on the left. It’s kind of…yummy? Like lemon candy? And it seems to have dried pretty matte, as far as I can tell. Hmm. Here’s the ingredients list at CosDNA, if you’re interested. No idea how my skin feels about these particular chemical sunscreen actives, or the products in general. I’ll report back later.)
**Here’s a substantive review of the Biore Watery Essence at Fifty Shades of Snail borne of real experience with the product. Fiddy is an excellent skin care and k-beauty blogger, and if you decide to order this product ($8 on Amazon Prime, which is a heck of a lot more attractive a price point than my Paula’s Choice stuff), you should use her affiliate link instead. 🙂 Use me for books. 😉
As for Paula’s Choice
I’m still a fan. I love and highly recommend several PC products, including (especially) her Moisture Boost Hydrating Toner, her Resist Daily Smoothing Treatment 5% AHA, and (swoon) her deliciously rich Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer. My recent studies have taken me into the highly absorbing world of Korean skincare products (the k-beauty scene) and there are a number of enticing creams and serums I’d like to try, but I imagine there will always be a lot of Paula stuff in my cabinet. And on my face.
TO SUM UP:
1. Know what’s in your sunscreen
2. Reapply it every three hours at least
3. I hate wearing hats
4. I was in a serious relationship with Paula’s Choice Resist Cellular Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 25 for four years, but we might be breaking up
5. But I still love and highly recommend several PC products, especially that moisturizer I mentioned
6. My skin is on the dry side, if you can’t tell from the above
7. I’m pursuing other sunscreen options
8. SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS, WEAR YOUR SUNBLOCK
9. If you think I’m longwinded about sunscreen, you don’t want to get me started on skin care in general
10. This Biore stuff smells pretty great
July 8, 2009 @ 8:00 pm | Filed under: Sunscreen
My pal Caryn wrote today, looking for a post I wrote a while back about my struggle with the question of daily sunscreen use. What’s worse, I wondered (and still do): the chemicals seeping into our skin, day after day after day? Or the dangers of sun exposure? Ever since our move to San Diego in the fall of 2006, these questions have plagued me. My kids wear hats some of the time, and I know keeping covered is the best course of action, but still: it’s short-sleeve weather here almost all year round. And hats aren’t always preferable. I can’t stand wearing a hat, myself. But we’re all fair-skinned (one of us even has albinism!) and one of us is a cancer survivor, and, and, and…I always come back to: OK, sunscreen: which one?
In the comments of that old post, a couple of people linked to the EWG Skin Deep website which ranks sunscreens based on sun protection and lack of nasty chemicals. The rankings have been updated for 2009, and there is some helpful information on the site about the difference between UVA and UVB rays (most sunscreens only protect against UVB, the rays which cause sunburn, but UVA rays are the ones that can cause skin cancer) and the hazards of certain chemicals found in many sunscreens, including oxybenzone (which I was was dismayed to see is an ingredient in the the product I’ve been using this past year, a Philosophy brand sunscreen I spent too much money on).
(Hefty price tags are the one thing most of these products seem to have in common, no matter how they’re ranked. Sigh.)
Also ranked are daily moisturizers containing SPF. This was of even more interest to me than the sunscreen evaluation, since the result of that previous round of questioning had led me to switch the kids to UV Natural, a sunscreen I read about in the Chinaberry catalog. It has a rating of 1 (0 is best, 10 is worst) from EWG. We have also used Burt’s Bee’s Chemical Free Sunscreen, which only scores a 4 in the ranking, but the only con listed is fragrance. (Another chemical? Not likely with that brand, right?)
So for the kids, I felt like I’d found some decent options. (California Baby and Badger are also ranked very high in the 2009 list, and I happened to pick up a tube of California Baby Sunscreen Lotion No Fragrance at Target today. We haven’t tried it yet to see if it leaves a residue like some of them do. (Caryn mentioned that the Neutrogena brand she tried on her little guy leaves a white zinc-y residue.)
But I’m still looking for the perfect daily SPF-containing moisturizer. I have dry skin and really need a good moisturizer. (I still lament the loss of the brilliant Carrot Moisture Cream that The Body Shop used to sell.) It seems silly to use moisturizer and sunscreen: two face creams? Who has time for that? I share Alton Brown’s distaste for the unitasker.
Around the time of that first sunscreen post, I’d been briefly interested in the SPF-containing mineral foundations that everyone was talking about—Bare Minerals and that ilk. I hadn’t worn makeup in nearly 20 years at that point, but the Bare Minerals hype made it sound pretty appealing. Glowing skin and SPF? And minerals—so good for you, right? But then I read all about how Bare Minerals contain bismuth, which seemed alarming, and my hasty explorations of the various bismuth-free mineral foundations left me muddled and overwhelmed. Too expensive, too much work, too many little brushes to clutter up the bathroom.
It’s worth noting that the powder foundations like Bare Minerals are strongly advised against by the Skin Deep folks because not only do you wind up absorbing chemicals through your skin, you inhale the tiny particles as well. This blindingly obvious fact which had not previously occurred to me made me laugh and laugh. Oh the endless ways there are to ingest toxins nowadays!
Anyway, back I went to a face cream (another Body Shop cream but, sadly, nowhere near as lovely as the old carrot cream) and a separate sunscreen—the Philosophy one I splurged on because it didn’t smell like sunscreen at all. That tube has lasted me a year, and just last week I bit the bullet and reordered—and now I see it gets a lousy 5 in the EWG ranking because of oxybenzone. I haven’t opened the tube yet; I think I’ll return it.
But what to use instead? Why do these things have to be so crazy expensive? A jar or tube of any of the brands listed in the top ten on EWG’s “Best Moisturizers with Sunscreen” list will run you upwards of $30. That’s nuts, isn’t it?
And then there’s the whole question of nanoparticles, which—well, here. In brief, EWG recommends against nanoparticle-containing cosmetics such as eye shadow, but—to the surprise of its researchers—found in favor of sunscreens containing nanoparticles of zinc and/or titanium, on the grounds that whatever health risks may be associated with nanotechnology, they are less serious than the risks posed by UVA exposure.
Listen to me talking like some kind of beauty blogger. Ha, far from it: I’m just a fair-skinned, freckled 40-year-old who lives in a sunny climate. So: have any of you tried any of the products on this list? Or does the idea of shelling out that kind of dough make you howl with laughter?