It’s sunscreen week!

This is another guest post from my amazing (and funny, and smart, and talented) skin care correspondent, Svea. In fact, her crazy knowledge of sunscreen and how it relates to acne has resulted in a post that was so epic, it needed to be broken down into three parts!

This is Part 2. Click here to read Part 1.

Also, check out Svea’s own blog here. Go. Do it.

Extremely High SPF-Factors are Highly Controversial

Today, we can buy sunscreens with factors 50+ up to 100 or more. Yet, these extremely high factors are not undisputed among experts. Here are some of the reasons:

SPF 20 absorbs around 95 percent of all UV rays. SPF 50 has a ratio of 98 percent of absorption. So you see, there is no significant difference in protective power!

Extremely high SPF-factors lull people into a false sense of security. People might want to extend their sun bathing sessions, but a longer time of exposure can easily provoke sunburns or chronic light damage.

Some sunscreens have a high UVB-protection rate, but don’t absorb the whole spectrum of UVA rays. That‘s why, during longer periods of exposure, the skin cells will inevitably be overloaded with UVA radiation. Skin aging, hyper-pigmentation or skin cancer are possible consequences.

To protect healthy skin from UV radiation, a sun protection factor of 30 is definitely sufficient. Even for sensitive skins, this type of protection should be enough – always assuming that the sunscreen has been applied correctly and that the time of exposure is not excessive! 

Yet, medical sun protection should be evaluated in a different way. There are a few indications which make the use of extremely high sun protection factors (50+) reasonable. These are: photodermatoses, protection of newly formed scar surfaces and pigment disorders such as hyper-pigmentation (chloasma) and vitiligo.

The Sun is Not Your Enemy

For years we have been told to cover up in the sun to cut the risk of getting skin cancer. But now it turns out that a little bit of sunshine on our body is actually good for us!

Sunshine boosts levels of serotonin, the body’s natural happy hormone. It causes vitamin D to be produced underneath the skin. That’s why we tend to feel happier and more energetic when the sun shines.

It boosts our immune system and is essential for absorbing calcium, keeping our bones healthy, and for protecting us against serious chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, reducing the risk of cancers and preventing cavities.

Yes, the sun can even help to keep your teeth strong!

In addition, sun exposure can help to heal acne, eczema or psoriasis. Regular and controlled sun exposure is often even prescribed for sufferers.

It enhances the immune system by increasing the count of white blood cells. It normalizes blood pressure, as well as blood sugar – very important for acne prevention! It can penetrate your pores and prevent infection from bacteria, yeast, and viruses, including those on your face. It can even improve digestion, making your healthy diet work even better for you!

Go out into the sun – without wearing any kind of sunblock – for between five and 15 minutes a day and at least three times a week, to boost your vitamin D levels before slapping on the sunscreen.

However, make sure you never burn!

Your skin starts to turn pink when you’ve been exposed to enough sunlight. It takes around half this time to produce vitamin D without damaging your skin (usually between 10-15 minutes between 10-11am and 3-4pm, depending on where you live). It takes black and Asian skin up to six times longer to produce vitamin D.

BUT: Never overdo your sun bathing break – burning and excessive exposure will increase the risk of skin cancer. Apply sunscreen (minimum SPF15) after your initial vitamin D boosting burst.


Let‘s go to the tanning salon just before the holidays! Lots of sun worshipers assume that this can protect them from a sunburn.

But whoever believes that, is playing with toxic lemons.

Artificial UV light has a different spectral composition compared to natural sunlight. That‘s why it won‘t help you to build up any protection against sunburn. In addition, each type of radiation is a risk for your skin.

“Pre-Tanning” is not only useless, but also dangerous! Have a look at those unconvincible hardcore “tanning victims”! If you treat your skin for decades with hours and hours of UV-radiation daily, your skin will obtain a leathery look on the long run. It‘s sad, but that‘s how it is. Think about it!

Sunscreen Tips

What are my recommendations for “safe” facial sunscreens for acne prone skin?

Below I listed a few, mostly non-nano zinc oxide based products, that seem to be the most “convincing” ones for acne-prone skin so far. At least to me! I tried them, and I didn’t break out.

That doesn’t have to mean anything, since everybody‘s skin reacts differently to different products, but fact is that these face screens are relatively light-weight and definitely free from silicones, mineral oil, parabens, formaldehyde and other weird chemical irritants. In addition, the white mask effect is very limited!

The only downside is that these products are designed to be moisturizers in the first place and are therefore not water-resistant – but far less pore clogging and easier to wash off! Make sure to reapply them after swimming!

You‘ll still have to try those or other (facial) sunscreens yourself. Some emulsifiers or film building agents might result slightly pore clogging, but only in some very rare cases – depending if you are sensitive to certain substances or not. Always ask for some samples before you buy anything and make a patch test to see how your skin reacts to these creams!

As a very light and emulsifier-free every-day protection alternative, you can try a zincoxide-based mineral foundation that does not contain nano-particles or bismuth (Lily Lolo or similar stuff), but BE CAREFUL! It certainly won‘t be enough for the summer months, the midday hours, a holiday, the beach, or a harbor tour!

If you find mineral foundation on its own too dehydrating, you can also blend some of it into your regular day moisturizer every morning, mixing it in the palms of your hands.

A good place to start searching for a relatively “harmless“ sunscreen that works for you, is the website of the Environmental Working Group, where you can find an updated sunscreen guide for 2012 and lots of additional information. I think, it’s worth to have a look at it, although titanium dioxide is rated with the same score as zinc oxide and a few chemical sunscreen agents (avobenzone or Mexoryl SX) are “accepted“. You‘ll still have to study the ingredients a little bit!

Click here to find a list of nano-free sunscreens (written in 2011). However, keep in mind, that not every sunscreen in this world has been tested! You can also download a free pdf file here.

If you want to know if there are potentially harmful substances in a sunscreen or other cosmetics you are interested in, you can check single ingredients and products here.

My Personal Sunscreen Tips:

1) DeVita Solar Protective Moisturizer – SPF 30+

This product has a lovely texture and contains organic aloe vera gel, only few and stable ingredients (no seed oils or essential oils) and no harmful chemicals. That‘s why it‘s a great option for the beach (even though it‘s “only“ a moisturizer and not water resistant. Make sure to reapply it every once in a while!).

It does not leave a white cast, is not oily and is next to scentless. Perfect? Well, almost. It‘s not easy to purchase outside the US! Grrrrrrrrrrrr!

In addition, on the internet, a handful of people seem to be complaining about getting watery eyes after applying this moisturizer to their face. I don‘t know, which ingredient could provoke this reaction (maybe one of the emulsifiers).However, most of those guys say that they get along very well with the body version instead: It‘s mild enough to be applied to the face as well (see body sunscreen tips)!

As far as I am concerned, I didn’t experience any problems at all with the facial version – so you‘ll still have to see yourself if your skin and eyes like it or not! So far, mine do.

  • Sunscreen agent: non-nano zinc oxide (micronized, average particle size: 240 nm)
  • Whitening effect: almost no whitening effect at all
  • Texture: fluid
  • Spreadability: easily spreadable
  • Emulsifiers: glyceryl stearate SE, stearic acid, lecithin phospholipid
  • Preservatives: vitamin E, grape seed extract
  • Scent: unscented
  • Ingredients: zinc oxide 19%, aloe barbadensis (certified organic aloe vera gel), purified water (aqua), capric/caprylic triglycerides (derived from coconut oil), glycerin (vegetable), hyaluronic acid (vegan source), glyceryl stearate SE (derived from vegetable oil), stearic acid, lecithin phospholipid, tocopherol (vitamin E), allantoin, vitis vinifera (grape) seed extract.

2) Marie Veronique Organics – Moisturizing Face Screen – SPF 30

Unfortunately this facial sunscreen is not available in Europe. I don‘t know about Asia, Australia, New Zealand and so on, but you can certainly buy it in the US.

It has a very pleasant and lightweight texture. The only emulsifier in it is lecithin, which is great for everyone who tends to have a sweaty feeling when using a cream with emulsifiers such as cetyl alcohol or cetearyl alcohol in it. The preservatives used are relatively harmless, free from formaldehyde and parabens, and well tolerated by most skin types.

I think this facial lotion is more suitable for girls (sorry, guys!), since it is slightly tinted to avoid the usual white cast effect of a mineral sunscreen.

The formulation contains a few essential oils, so stay away from it if you are sensitive to them. I emailed the company because I was a little skeptical about raspberry seed and sea buckthorn oil used in a sunscreen formulation, since many seed oils have a tendency to be phototoxic.

They sent me the following reply: “Red raspberry seed and sea buckthorn oil are not phototoxic at all. In fact, they provide natural UV protection and are very high in anti-oxidants.“ Also, they added some very interesting links:

Red raspberry seed oil
Sea buckthorn oil

  • Sunscreen agent: non-nano and non-micronized zinc oxide
  • Whitening effect: slightly tinted (to avoid the typical Geisha-look)
  • Texture: fluid
  • Spreadability: easily spreadable
  • Emulsifiers: lecithin
  • Preservatives: potassium sorbate and Cosmocil CQ
  • Scent: essential oils
  • Ingredients: camellia sinensis (green& white tea), non-nano zinc oxide, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba oil), prunus armeniaca (apricot kernel oil), limnanthes alba (meadowfoam seed oil), helianthus annuus (sunflower oil), emu oil, tocopherol (vitamin E), vegetable glycerin, elaesis guineensis (red palm oil), rubus idaeus (red raspberry seed oil), lecithin, potassium sorbate, allantoin, Cosmocil CQ, xanthan gum, mica, Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn oil), calodendrum capense (yangu oil), rosemarinus officinalis (rosemary oleoresin), pearl powder, daucus carota (carrot seed) essential oil, cistus incanus (cistus) essential oil, helichrysum italicum (helichrysum) essential oil, iron oxides, spirulina platensis (spirulina) (medium tint only).

3) Kimberly Sayer Ultra Light Organic Facial Moisturizer – SPF30

This sunscreen seems to be quite available worldwide.

It is extremely lightweight, sinks in quite well and doesn’t leave a white cast on my skin. It contains only few ingredients and is designed especially for acne prone and sensitive skin.

Yet, it contains essential oils. Personally, I don‘t react to essential oils, but I know that some people are sensitive to them. In particular, I was a little doubtful about lemon oil being an ingredient in a sunscreen: Essential oils – especially citrus oils – are easily prone to oxidation.

I got the following reply from the company: “All our essential oils are cold pressed so they absorb well below the surface of the skin. Lemon degreases the skin and also acts as an antiseptic by drying up spots and acne. There are a few drops per bottle and it doesn’t sit on the surface of the skin.“

Well, I must say, that didn’t completely kill my doubts! Maybe the small amount of lemon oil in it is indeed neglectable. One can get paranoid so easily! But I‘d still be skeptical to use it for sunbathing at the beach.

As far as their mineral sunblock formulation is concerned, they wrote: “We have never and will never use nano particles as they have toxic properties. We kettle steam our minerals, a method that allows the sunblock to be married to the base of our moisturizers. All our products are made in the USA, and we don‘t use Chinese ingredients.“

I think this simply means that they don‘t mix in any contaminated minerals. As far as the texture of this sunscreen is concerned, I must say that it‘s one of the best products I‘ve ever tried.

I didn’t dare to do a hardcore test on the beach (I don‘t like extreme sunbathing anyway), but I use it as a city sunscreen and it works! And I usually burn easily!

It still contains titanium dioxide and a small amount of emulsifying wax, hmmpppf! But I can buy it in Europe. One has to compromise!

  • Sunscreen agent: non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide
  • Whitening effect: almost no whitening effect at all
  • Texture: fluid
  • Spreadability: easily spreadable
  • Emulsifiers: lecithin (main emulsifier) and plant derived emulsifying wax
  • Preservatives: vitamin E, benzyl alcohol
  • Scent: essential oils (lemon and eucalyptus), coconut oil
  • Ingredients: deionized water, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, sunflower seed oil, lecithin, safflower seed oil, emulsifying wax (vegetable), glycerin, coconut oil, aloe vera leaf juice, sea algae extract, lemon oil, shea butter, green tea, jojoba seed oil, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin e), eucalyptus globulus leaf oil, xanthan gum (vegetable), benzyl alcohol (plant alcohol preservative).

4) Antipodes Immortal Moisturizer – SPF15

This moisturizer for sensitive skin is not as cosmetically elegant as the Devita or Kimberly Sayer sunscreens, but it feels a little more moisturizing.

I couldn’t find any further information about the type of zinc oxide used in this cream, so I contacted the company. They assured me that all their products are free from nano technology. We still have to believe what they tell us, but in this case the non-nano claims seem pretty reasonable since this moisturizer tends to leave a slightly white cast on my skin.

However, they didn’t specify if it‘s micronized or not. The efficacy of this sunscreen has been certified in New Zealand (NZS 2604:1998). However, this cream contains quite a cocktail of different (but mild) emulsifiers. I can use it every once in a while and feel good with it without having any problems. But it‘s no every day solution.

Phenoxyethanol (a preservative) can be an allergen for some people, but it‘s almost the last ingredient listed, so there isn‘t much of it in there.

  • Sunscreen agent: non-nano zinc oxide
  • Whitening effect: leaves a slightly white cast
  • Texture: creme
  • Spreadability: it‘s not that easy to spread – I have to warm it a little bit in the palms of my hands before gently “massaging“ it punctually into my skin. It takes a little time to apply properly.
  • Emulsifiers: polyhydroxystearic acid and isostrearic acid, cetearyl glucoside, coco glucoside, cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate
  • Preservatives: phenoxyethanol (can be an allergen for some people), vitamin E
  • Scent: unscented
  • Ingredients: aqua (water), zinc oxide and caprylic capric triglyceride, polyhydroxystearic acid and isostrearic acid, prunus dulcis (sweet almond oil), prunus ameniaca (apricot oil), glycerine, cetearyl glucoside, coco glucoside, bisabolol, cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate, butyl hydroxyl, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba oil), vitis vinifera and actinidia chinensis (vinanza grape and kiwi extract), hyaluronic acid, rubus idaeus (rasberry seed oil), punica granatum (pomegranate extract), gandoderma lucidum (reishi mushroom), xanthan gum, ethylhexyl glycerin, phenoxyethanol, vitamin E.

… Okay! That’s enough for Day 2 of Sunscreen Week. Tune in on Friday for the final installment of this series. You can look forward to Svea’s recommendations for safe body sunscreens, and her final tips. 

Click Here to read Part 3!