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Physical Vs. Chemical Sunscreen—Plus All Our Best SPF Recommendations

Serge Normant Meta Luxe Hair Spray UV Protection
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IMG_Elta MD uv facial borad-spectrum spf 46
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Elta MD uv facial borad-spectrum spf 30+
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Coola mineral sunscreen
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Diorsnow, UVB Protection
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Serge Normant Meta Luxe Hair Spray UV Protection
IMG_Elta MD uv facial borad-spectrum spf 46
Elta MD uv facial borad-spectrum spf 30+
Coola mineral sunscreen
Diorsnow, UVB Protection
Serge Normant Meta Luxe Hair Spray UV Protection
IMG_Elta MD uv facial borad-spectrum spf 46
Elta MD uv facial borad-spectrum spf 30+
Coola mineral sunscreen
Diorsnow, UVB Protection
replies

Ask and you shall receive! By popular demand, here is your one stop shop for everything you could possibly want to know about sunscreen. We’ve got definitions, relevant links, and of course, the best ITG-tested, dermatologist-approved sunscreens for your lovely mug, so as to best protect yourself (before you wreck yourself, with UVA/UVB rays, natch). But before I get into my top picks, let's talk the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens, because there is one, and you should know about it. (Information is power! Power to the people!)

Physical sunscreens... protect your skin from the sun by deflecting or blocking the sun's rays. They're usually made of titanium dioxide (TiO2) or zinc oxide (ZnO). Titanium dioxide can be problematic for some people (if you break out from mineral makeup and physical sunscreen, titanium dioxide could be the problem), but zinc is used in diaper-rash cream and is usually pretty easy-breezy on most people's faces. Physical sunscreens tend to be thicker in consistency and usually are opaque, and they start working immediately. They do have to be reapplied more often, as they tend to rub off easily.

Chemical sunscreens... work by absorbing the sun's rays via a chemical reaction and dispelling the excess energy as heat. They're generally more irritating to skin than the physical sunscreens, but they can offer more consistent coverage against UVA and UVB rays. They're usually colorless, odorless, and usually “runny' in texture. Also, you're recommended to wait 20 minutes after application before you go in the sun, to get the maximum effect. You can identify a chemical sunscreen by reading the list of ingredients on the back; if it contains Octocrylene, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Oxybenzone, Homosalate, Helioplex, 4-MBC, Mexoryl SX and XL, Tinosorb S and M, and Uvinul T 150 and Uvinul A Plus, it's chemical.

For more intel on both types, check out this very helpful chart, and if you're concerned that your sunscreen could be potentially hazardous or toxic, go and cross-reference it at this amazing database, which I am now totally infatuated with (all the products we're talking about here have low-hazard ratings, if you're wondering, because we value you and we don't want to recommend that you put poison on your face. Not today, anyways?).

Now that we’re clear on formula, we should lay some SPF-usage ground rules. I got back in touch with Dr. Elizabeth Hale, who told me that she wears “sunscreen and sunglasses every day, even when it's raining, and a hat when I run, and yes, people probably think I look a little crazy.” Because when it comes to protecting your skin, the best offense is a good defense, right? Right. Go team!

The Good Dr. Hale Recommends:

'For weekends and the summer months, on your face' : Skin Medica Physical Defense

'It's so lightweight, I wear it on my face everyday' : Oil Of Olay Complete

'For exercising outdoors and all summer, for your body. I'm obsessed with': Coppertone Sport

'You can wear this as an extra layer over your base layer' : Bare Minerals Powder

Dr. Gervaise Gerstner (with whom I spoke a while ago, when we were talking about 'How to Look Hot' for your winter holidays in the sun) recommends L'Oréal's “sheer and silky' Sublime Sun Face Lotion with SPF 30 (yes, Dr. Gerstner is a Brand Ambassador for L'Oréal Paris). She also said she's “obsessed with L'Oréal's new sunscreen oils.” like Sublime Sun Sheer Protect Sunscreen Oil, which come in SPF 50—the highest SPF you can get in an oil—and is also available in 15 and 30. “It's easily absorbed, water-resistant and has this great, light, beachy scent.” The really important thing, she noted, “is that with the new FDA guidelines, you have to make sure that your sunscreen has both UVA and UVB protection. Also, May is Melanoma Awareness Month.” (Noted.)

Given all that I've learned from the derms and my own skin needs, I've spent a lot of time looking for the perfect blend of heavy sun protection with a weightless feel (and I occasionally like a little bit of tint in there, because I don't wear foundation, so WHY NOT, RIGHT?). Here are my current top picks:

Elta M.D. UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46: Elta is one of those brands that I see in little foil packets in every dermatologist's office I've ever been in, and with good reason. It's soothing enough for acne-prone skin, or people with rosacea and hyperpigmentation, and it's formulated with vitamin B3 to help reduce the appearance of blemishes or any skin damage you've got (because you weren't wearing sunscreen until now, sigh). It's insanely lightweight, fragrance-free, oil-free, paraben-free, noncomodogenic, and when I say “insanely lightweight' I mean you can not feel it. So, all of you who say things like, “But I just hate the way sunscreen feels on my skin' really have no excuse. It's transparent zinc oxide, which means that it is technically a physical sunscreen, which is nuts to me, because those are usually thick and opaque and hard to apply and this is none of that. Also, I referenced it on the aforementioned crazy skincare database and it rates as 2 out of 10 (in this case, 10 is the worst). So, hello, dreamweaver. I love you. I've been wearing you every day.

DiorSnow White Reveal UV Protection SPF 50: Though the name and some of the 'reveal your whiteness' verbiage on the bottle is admittedly a little off-putting (it doesn't “whiten' your skin, though I think some of the other products from the line do), Dior's physical sunscreen (it's made up of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) is both heavy-duty and pleasantly scented. Plus, it has a chic snowflake right front and center....because we're all beautiful little snowflakes. It's thicker and definitely more opaque than the Elta, but I think I would break it out on ski trips and in anticipation of other prolonged, serious sun exposure for the good ol' face and neck region. Seeya this summer!

Coola Mineral Sunscreen for Face (Unscented Matte Tint) SPF 30: This one piqued my interest because it's quite sporty-looking while also packing a tint, and advertises itself as both “certified organic' and matte . And guys, remember, we love matte . So, it was kind of my dark horse, this odd little turquoise bottle trying to tell me it's really sporty/earth-minded makeup. Also, it's has lowest SPF of the three, at 30. It's antioxidant-packed sunscreen with barely any scent, made with lovely ingredients rarely found in the big brands: rose hip oil, vitamin C, and evening-primrose and flax-seed oils. The tint is very light and the finish is very matte. Kind of into it, guys. I'd wear this one on days when I felt I needed a bit of a color boost (ahem, the month of March, anybody?).

Reminder : Read the directions and reapply (most screens will tell you how water-resistant they are, and they're not lying; “40 minutes' means you need to reapply every 40 minutes or let's call the whole thing off) and don't forget your eyes (wear shades! They're cool! James Dean! This guy!) or your scalp (Serge Normant's Meta Luxe Hairspray has UV protection for your strands, but if you're going to be in some serious sun, get some 'screen on that scalp. GET AT IT. Think of all the potential pre-cancerous moles you're not seeing because they are on top of your head). Also, the backs of your hands, so they stay looking young even when you're not “technically'). We're all going to be wearing mittens after 50, I can just tell. Hopefully, the mittens will be chic in the future. Future-mittens in our flying cars. Future- Phoebe Philo, get on it, please.

Questions, concerns, recommendations of your own? We're “all ears.” Hit us up. Hope this helped! Love to love you, babies.

—Alessandra Codinha

Photographed by Elizabeth Brockway.