Good sunscreen?
August 2, 2006 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Reading Wikipedia gives one the impression that most sunscreens and sunscreen ingredients are ineffective and/or give you skin cancer or other sickness. What's a good sunscreen brand I should purchase that will both protect me from the sun and also not kill me?
posted by punishinglemur to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've sworn by Bullfrog ever since I discovered it a year ago. I'm pretty faired skinned and usually burn instantly... until Bullfrog.

The gel is the best.
posted by jeffxl at 10:22 AM on August 2, 2006

The most ineffectual thing about sunscreens is the flawed notion of SPF as a quantification of the level of protection. That doesn't mean that the sunscreen is ineffective, though -- it's the language that's ineffective.

I don't find the scholarship cited as evidence that the ingredients are dangerous to be tremendously convincing.
posted by desuetude at 10:30 AM on August 2, 2006

desuetude, would you explain your point about language?
posted by canine epigram at 10:41 AM on August 2, 2006

Supposedly, Avobenzone (Parsol 1789) is one of three ingredients, along with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which have been shown to protect against UVA radiation, and you can find these in the generic line No Ad.
posted by maloon at 10:59 AM on August 2, 2006

Well, are we talking about sunscreen so you don't get skin cancer or sunscreen because you have a medical condition like XP, lupus, porphyria, etc? Your requirements if you have any particular photodermatosis may be based on a particular chunk of the UV spectrum, which complicates matters.

However, if you're looking to avoid freckles, wrinkles, and cancer, just find something that blocks both UVA and UVB. Desuetude is right in that SPF is a lousy way to measure a very complex set of data - its like trying to determine how healthy a food is just by looking at the calories and nothing else.

Consider hat and gloves as an alternative if you have a real issue. Get some UV-proof near-invisible "tinting" for your car.
posted by adipocere at 11:01 AM on August 2, 2006

Sunscreen for cancer and such things, this isn't for any particular medical condition.
posted by punishinglemur at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2006

My skin is also very fair and prone to burning. I recently used (one application before and one during exposure) CVS's Sunblock With Zinc Oxide SPF 45+ (yes, SPF 45+) while exposed to direct sunlight (mainly on arms and neck) for several hours nearly continuously and found it remarkably effective against tanning/burning. (The product page cited lists all active and inactive ingredients.)

Unfortunately I have no idea about general comparisons or the state of research on possible adverse health effects of sunscreens.
posted by yz at 11:24 AM on August 2, 2006

I read an interesting article about sunscreen the other day. Of course, I can't find it now, but this article, while not as good as the one I read, makes pretty much the same point.
posted by thejanna at 12:25 PM on August 2, 2006

SPF is supposed to indicate how long you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. Because colloquially, sunburn = proof of damage. But sunburn is not the only kind of skin damage, so "sun protection factor" is somewhat of a simplistic misnomer. Worse, the "SPFx = x times longer" equation starts breaking down at the higher numbers like "SPF 45," which is why the labelling guidelines were changed.

What do we mean by sunburn, anyway? As anyone who has ever had the "you're sunburned as all heck/no, it's just a little color and I'll be tan tomorrow" exchange knows, sunburn isn't a precise term.

How is one supposed to know how quickly you would get sunburned without lotion? After all, most people are not aware at exactly what time they're getting burned, since we don't tend to notice just how red we've gotten until later.

punishinglemur, if this part of your question, "sunscreen ingredients are ineffective and/or give you skin cancer or other sickness" relates to that article cited on Wikipedia about increased incidence of melanoma: Correlation is not causation. A higher incidence of melanoma in people who use sunscreen does not prove that the sunscreen caused the melanoma. Also, that Wikipedia reference citation is not to a scientific publication, but to a website discussing hypotheses which in turn do not have suffient citations backing them up. The "Possible Health Effects" portion of the wiki has some errors, like referring to a letter to the editor as a "study," that suggest that the section is biased.
posted by desuetude at 12:45 PM on August 2, 2006

The thing is, SPF is only a measure of how well a sunscreen blocks UVB rays. While UVB rays cause sunburns, UVA rays are what cause skin cancer and wrinkling. Most American sunscreens don't give your much information about how well they block UVA, but the ingredients to look for are titanum dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, or (coming this fall to the US) Mexoryl.
posted by the jam at 1:39 PM on August 2, 2006

Cetaphil SPF15 for every day. It's cheap, it's photostable (quality of protection doesn't degrade in sunlight, as most sunscreens do), it has a high PPD, and it doesn't contain any of those ingredients which may or may not infiltrate your bloodstream and do you harm. Only downside: tends towards greasy, so not good if your skin is already oily.

Neutrogena Dry-Touch SPF 55 is a good option if you need high-calibre protection for a day at the beach. The newest formulation is photostable and contains Helioplex, which offers a high PPD. It does contain some of those chemical filters that may or may not be bad for you, but I think that's a small risk to take for protection against serious sunburn. Lack of greasiness is a definite plus, although this is achieved with generous use of silicones which are comedogenic for some people.

True sunscreen afficianados (many of whom can be found at the skincare board on pay big-bucks for high-end Asian and European formulations like Shiseido SPF 55 and La Roche Posey Anthelios with Mexoryl; personally, I think they pay a lot more money for relatively little additional protection, but if this is something you're really concerned about I'd suggest you join MUA and read both the sunscreens and the sunscreenfaq notepads to figure out which product best meets your needs.
posted by junkbox at 2:05 PM on August 2, 2006

It is my experience, as a fair-skinned person with little sun tolerance (hence my trademark hats and so on), that the combination of titanium dioxide + no fragrance almost always is a good choice irrespective of brand name.

The UVB-blocking ingredients are largely interchangeable from product to product; the discriminators for me are TiO2 and no stink. Drugstore house brands work fine under those criteria.
posted by joeclark at 2:58 PM on August 2, 2006

I buy the local Cancer Society sunscreen. They know what they're doing after all. I'm fair and tan easily, and live in the city with the higest rate of melanoma in the world (NZ and Australia have more UV than everywhere else), and Cancer Society sunscreen keeps me nice and pale. I'm sure other countries will have something similar, if not the sunscreen than at least information from your local Cancer Society about what to buy and how to use sunscreen.

One of the big problems with the SPF rating is that it's only relevant if you apply the stuff properly. The amount you're supposed to put on is pretty high (google tells me 2 mg / sq cm), basically a good handful per limb. Most people put that amount on their whole body, so it's spread much too thin. You're also supposed to reapply every couple of hours regardless of spf, the time rating is misleading. Then apply even more often after swimming and on your face. Oh and put it on 30 minutes before you go in the sun to be protected from the start. And even then you need to remember that it's reducing the amount of sun getting on you not preventing it, so you'll still tan eventually.

Not that I have an issue with sunblock per se. Melanoma is no fun and neither is the dry skin I get from sun exposure. It's just important that you not only buy the right stuff, but that you use it correctly.

(full disclaimer: I used to work for the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre doing cancer research, so I am biased towards the great work they do)
posted by shelleycat at 4:06 PM on August 2, 2006

I'm also very fair skinned and live in Southern California. I find that if I have a bit of a "tan" from self-tanner I tend not to burn as much when in the sun. Not sure how much you are required to be in the sun, but zinc oxide and a hat would be my best bet. Also, wear lightweight fabrics that cover problem areas.
posted by livinginmonrovia at 5:32 PM on August 2, 2006

One vote against the Bullfrog gel. It did work quite well, but I couldn't tell where I applied it, since it's a gel instead of a cream. So I ended up burned badly in one spot I missed.
posted by smackfu at 8:12 PM on August 2, 2006

I am no expert on sunscreen (I hardly use it), but I recall this press release of FDA approving a new sunscreen, which might be of help :

"There’s a new over-the-counter sunscreen on the market, and it includes an active ingredient that’s new to the U.S.

The FDA on Monday approved Anthelios SX, made by L’Oreal, to prevent sunburn and protect against ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. The new product has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15. "

posted by forwebsites at 9:11 PM on August 2, 2006

Without offering proof:

Try taking PABA (as a nutritional supplement) before going out, as an adjunct to other methods.

Take a small dose first; about 1/20 people are allergic.
posted by dragonsi55 at 4:58 AM on August 3, 2006

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