By Kelli Glazebrook
Sunscreen. The word conjures up a sticky, white, gluey mess. We know we should wear it, we know the dangers of sun exposure. Many of us have had, or know people who have had, suspicious growths removed, or battled skin cancer. Yet we still don’t wear sunscreen. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, only 14% of men and 30% of women in the United States regularly use sunscreen on their face and body. At the same time, skin cancer rates among Americans continue to rise. So why don’t people wear sunscreen?
We all know the reason: most sunscreen in the United States is terrible. It smells weird. It feels greasy. It melts down your face and arms in the middle of 100-degree days. And it often leaves a white cast on the skin during a time that many of us are trying to look tanned and glowing. While other products improve over time, sunscreen mostly looks, feels, and performs the same as it did when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were dating.
Sun Protection in the U.S. vs Other Markets
It is largely true. No new sunscreen ingredients have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in over a decade. The FDA has decided there is not enough evidence to prove several sunscreen filtering ingredients are safe. Their opinion contradicts many years of extensive testing in European and Asian markets.
Only two FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients offer good protection from UVA rays. This is troubling since UVA rays penetrate more deeply than UVB rays and, as a result, are responsible for many skin cancers. More than 87,000 Americans are diagnosed every year with melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, and almost 10,000 will die this year alone. So while the Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control urge Americans to wear sunscreen, the FDA continues to put a hold on new and better sunscreen ingredients.
So what do we do when forced to use old-fashioned and outdated sunscreens? Go to the Internet, of course! Thanks to online retailers, European and Asian sunscreens are available to us at affordable prices.
How Protection Factors Differ
Before we go exploring, we should know how to evaluate sun protection. In the United States, SPF or Sun Protection Factor, tells us how much longer than normal it takes for UVB rays to burn skin. It only tells us about protection from UVB.
That’s right: SPF tells us virtually nothing about protection from UVA. In many Asian countries, on the other hand, bottles are stamped with PA+ to PA++++, which tells you the Protection Grade of UVA. The more plus signs, the higher the protection. In European countries, they use the UVAPF or UVA Protection Factor, which generally correlates to SPF. While they might sound more confusing and harder to evaluate, they generally offer better protection than American sunscreens.
So, if you are sold on importing your sunscreen, below are some of my favorites.
Recommended European & Asian Sunscreens
• My everyday commuter sunscreen for going to work and out shopping would be the Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+/PA++++. This is not water resistant, but goes on beautifully underneath makeup and dries clear. No white cast, absolutely no greasy feel.
• I also use the Nivea Sun Protect Super Water Gel SPF 50/PA+++, which is especially great because it sports a handy pump. This one is my every day body and neck sunscreen. The PA+ rating is one notch down from the Bioré, but still very high and protects well. It dries down with no greasiness.
• For those days when I will be spending lots of time outdoors and sweating or getting wet, the Kao Bioré UV Perfect Milk SPF 50+/PA++++ is my top choice. It does dry down with a bit more of a white cast than the Bioré that I use for everyday, but light years better than any American sunscreen I have used.
• The Make P:rem UV Defense Me SPF 50+/PA+++ is one I haven’t tried yet but is getting rave reviews. Not recommended for oily skin, however, due to heavy silicone usage. But might be perfect for drier skin types.
• The Bioderma Photoderm line from France is a bit more expensive and harder to import, but dries down easily and is water-resistant. This will really change your mind regarding sunscreen.
Recommended American Sunscreens
If you are hesitant to import, here are the best American sunscreens I’ve tried. I cannot guarantee the level of protection of these, but I personally haven’t noticed burning or darkening of the skin with use.
• And the matching body sunscreen from Vichy is also very good.
• The La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch SPF 60 is another I have in my rotation. This one does tend to leave a white cast unless applied well.
• The Coola Classic Sport SPF 50 isn’t bad, if a bit on the expensive side. It does dry down to a powdery, almost velvety texture, but the white cast is pretty evident.
• One of the better American drugstore sunscreens is the Neutrogena Pure and Free Liquid Sunscreen SPF 50. Not bad when it dries down, but tends toward patchiness.
Additional Protection is a Must
Wearing sunscreen is an excellent idea, but it’s not always enough protection. Wear a hat and sunglasses. Cover your skin—particularly from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Reapply sunscreen frequently, especially if swimming or sweating. And we should all be seeing our dermatologist regularly for skin check-ups.
Kelli Glazebrook is a Fresno native always eager to chat about skincare, makeup, and Disneyland. She can be found on Twitter at @glazebrookgirl.