Come one, come all! Welcome to the first post in a “what’s in my makeup bag” series, where I’ll break down what products in my arsenal are on heavy rotation, and why they are superstars.
We’re going to start with sunscreens, because they are CRITICALLY IMPORTANT. Why spend any time or money on skincare if you’re just going to bareback it and let the sun destroy your hard work. It’s like eating Oreos while on the treadmill. Wait, no. Bad example, because I could totally see myself doing that.
There are literally a shit ton of sunscreens available — creams, oils, sprays, chemical, physical, waterproof, tinted, broad spectrum, dear God, it’s enough to make your head explode. You’ve gotta know what makes a sunscreen a good one, and you’ve got to know what you like. If it smells weird or feels yucky on your skin, you’re not going to wear it, and it’s not going to protect you sitting in a drawer. Unfortunately, that calls for a lot of trial-and-error, and that can get really spendy really fast, and nothing says regret like a drawerful of barely used products. I like to pick up sample sizes off eBay — if they made a sample size, someone’s selling it there. If you pick up a full size item that ends up sucking, don’t throw it out — use it on your hands and arms. This goes for all anti-aging products, because nothing says cognitive dissonance like a flawless face and mottled old lady hands. (Madonna, I love you, but I’m looking at you.)
So, sunscreen. Let’s touch on some basic facts first. We are interested in blocking both UVA and UVB rays. Most of the UV rays given off by the sun are UVA; these little bastards penetrate the skin quite deeply and are largely responsible for damaging your dermal collagen, which leads to that lovely saggy and leathery skin we all crave. UVA rays are equally intense throughout all times of daylight and all seasons of the year, AND they penetrate clouds and glass, the little shysters. UVB rays, on the other hand, do not penetrate very deeply; they mostly effect the epidermis (your outer skin layer) where they cause DNA damage that leads to skin cancer. UVB rays are most intense during midday and summer, but do not penetrate glass. Clearly both UVA and UVB are bad news, so we need a sunscreen that protects against both (“broad-spectrum”), and we need to wear it all.the.time.
The active ingredients in sunscreens are either physical (which bounces UV rays off the skin surface, preventing them from breaking and entering); look for “titanium dioxide” and “zinc oxide”) or chemical (which “absorb” UV light by undergoing a chemical reaction that renders it powerless; look for “avobenzone”, “oxybenzone”, “octinoxate”, “Meroxyl”, etc.). Because nothing is perfect, there’s good and bad about both. Physical ingredients are notorious for their chalky white Casper effect and tend to rub off more easily, but they are mostly non-irritating (unlike your co-worker in the next cubicle) and quite safe. Chemical ingredients must be fully absorbed into the stratum corneum (the dead outermost skin layer), so they need 20 minutes to become effective; plus, the UV-zapping reactions can actually produce free radicals which can cause irritation and skin damage, which is laughable in its irony and causes me an irrational amount of distress. However, they protect against a greater range of UVA and UVB rays than physical products, and don’t leave a funky white cast. Is your head exploding yet?
So, dermatologists recommend using sunscreen that contains both physical and chemical ingredients. (I always love statements that start off that way, “dermatologists recommend”. It conjures up an image of a bunch of studious people in long white lab coats having a serious discussion around a workbench in a laboratory. Do you know any dermatologists personally? I don’t think my mental image could be more inaccurate, because the dermatologists I know have nipple rings and cry when they get their hair cut.)
Those same emotionally crippled dermatologists also love to lecture about how we fail to use enough product. Yes, sadly, it’s true; if you skimp on sunscreen, you’ll never get the stated SPF. That’s why I like to layer sunscreen-containing products, such as a sunscreen proper followed by a BB or foundation with sunscreen. You’re more likely to hit areas you might have missed on your first pass, or give enough extra protection in areas you’d applied too little. And for the love of all things holy, don’t forget your ears and eyelids. Do you know how hard it is to excise a basal cell carcinoma with clean margins off an eyelid? No bueno.
Okay, so enough with the backstory. Let’s get on to my favorite sunscreens.
EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $32
This product contains 9.0% zinc oxide and 7.5% octinoxate, as well as niacinamide (which is supposed to reduce redness). For having a decent amount of zinc oxide, this somehow leaves no white cast. The formula isn’t too thick or goopy, and it hasn’t given me any trouble with pilling (MAJOR pet peeve). It does contain hylauronic acid, which is moisture-attracting — good on your cheeks, bad on an oily T-zone. If I use this on my forehead, makeup doesn’t stay as well, and I am shining like a little star in the afternoon. I use it everywhere on my face except the T-zone.
Sunday Riley Cashmere SPF 30+ Sun Defense, $125
Yeah, no, that’s not a typo. I really dig this product, although its price is prohibitive. It contains titanium dioxide (although I couldn’t find the exact concentration) as well as a bunch of floofy “anti-aging” ingredients. I love this product for how it feels — the name is spot on. It’s just a decadent, luxurious consistency and feels magnificent on. It can get a little goopy if you apply too much, with a little pilling and white residue. The price point keeps me from using this often, and it is a little heavy for the summer, but it makes for a beautiful treat for your skin when it’s irritated or dry, or following a peel or laser treatment. If you’d ever incorporate a sunscreen into a spa day, this would be it.
MDSolarsciences Mineral Creme Broad Spectrum SPF 50 UVA/UVB Sunscreen, $30
This is an exclusively physical sunscreen containing both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in a silicone base. It goes on very smoothly, does not pill, and leaves no white cast. I like this for my T-zone, although it can feel greasy by the end of the day.
MDSolarsciences Creme Mineral Beauty Balm Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $39
This tinted physical sunscreen contains 2% Titanium Dioxide and 17% Zinc Oxide. Despite it being tinted, it never looks makeup-y — I don’t know how they did it. Like its untinted buddy above, it has a silicone base, but this one never feels greasy — it is a T-zone superstar.
Most recently I’ve had my eye on Skinceuticals Physical Matte UV Defense SPF 50, in the eternal quest for a shineless forehead, but alas, it is out of stock. Booooo. :(
On the upside, it’s triple points at Nordie’s through the weekend. GO BUY SOME DAMN SUNSCREEN ALREADY.