Medical Review By: Evelina Ingersoll, APRN
You may have a go-to brand of sunscreen you buy year after year, or perhaps you choose whatever is most affordable at the drugstore. But have you ever wondered if the sunscreen you use is the best one for your skin — or your health?
News that the FDA is investigating the safety of certain ingredients in chemical sunscreen has driven more people to consider mineral sunscreen. These sit on top of the skin and act as a physical barrier against UV rays. They don’t penetrate the skin as chemical sunscreens do. One brand in particular has become a top choice of many dermatologists and consumers alike: EltaMD sunscreen.
What’s behind its popularity?
“EltaMD sunscreens are more natural than chemical sunscreens, and they’re an exceptionally good choice for people with sensitive skin and those who have conditions such as acne and rosacea,” says Evelina Ingersoll, APRN, a certified advanced practice registered nurse at Water’s Edge Dermatology.
“When we give our patients free samples of EltaMD sunscreen, they love it so much that they almost always come back a week later to buy the full-size product,” said Ingersoll.
No white residue
Many mineral sunscreens give skin a white cast, which turns some people away.
“The minute you say ‘zinc oxide,’ which is the base of EltaMD sunscreen and other mineral sunscreens, people start to groan,” said Ingersoll. “They picture a thick, sticky paste that’s hard to apply and leaves noticeable residue on their face. And it’s true that some mineral sunscreens are like that.”
EltaMD sunscreens are an exception, Ingersoll noted. “They are lightweight and transparent, which is great for anyone, but especially for people with dark skin, who may have avoided mineral sunscreen in the past.” Their lighter, smoother texture also means they look good under makeup.
Several ingredients in chemical sunscreens can aggravate sensitive skin and certain skin conditions, such as rosacea. “Oxybenzone is notorious for this,” Ingersoll said.
EltaMD sunscreens don’t contain irritating ingredients or additives such as fragrance, another common trigger of skin reactions. The lack of fragrance also makes EltaMD sunscreens a good choice for anyone who shies away from sunscreen because they dislike the smell.
Free of suspect chemicals
Zinc oxide is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA when it’s used in sunscreen. That’s not currently the case for chemical sunscreen ingredients. The FDA has asked for additional safety data on a handful of them to make sure they don’t pose a threat to human health.
Among those ingredients is oxybenzone. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents avoid using sunscreen containing it on their children. “The concern is that we know very little about the kind of effects that oxybenzone and other hormone-disrupting chemicals could have on children’s small bodies,” Ingersoll said.
EltaMD sunscreen is also free of parabens, which are preservatives commonly found in cosmetic products. Some research suggests they may mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and could potentially trigger the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells.
An acne-friendly choice
EltaMD sunscreens are noncomedogenic, meaning they’re unlikely to clog pores.
“This sets them apart because other mineral sunscreens are quite heavy and can block your pores,” Ingersoll said. She recommends EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 to acne patients. It contains niacinamide (vitamin B3).
“Niacinamide is a very helpful ingredient because it helps treat acne and the skin discolorations it can cause,” she explained. “It also reduces redness, which is a common problem for people with acne.”
A sunscreen’s job is to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays that cause cancer and premature skin aging. Every broad-spectrum sunscreen does this, provided you apply enough and choose one with a high enough SPF. But some contain “bonus ingredients” that can boost hydration and make your skin look more youthful.
Many EltaMD sunscreens include hyaluronic acid, which is particularly effective in maintaining skin’s moisture and giving you a dewy look. EltaMD UV Restore Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 features vitamin C and vitamin E, antioxidants that fight skin-aging free radicals.
Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen, no matter which one, is critical to reducing the risk of skin cancer. EltaMD sunscreens do cost more than drugstore brands, but if there’s room in your budget, dermatologists say they’re a smart investment.
“When you consider how much these sunscreens do, they’re definitely worth the price,” said Ingersoll.
Article Written By: Jessica Brown, a health and science writer/editor based in Brooklyn, New York. She has written for Prevention magazine, jnj.com, BCRF.org and many other outlets.