Sun Care Center

What is broad spectrum protection?

Sunscreen is one of the most vital FSA-eligible products available to American families for its role in preventing skin cancer, which 1 in 5 Americans will experience some time in their lifetime (AAD).

But what many people aren't aware of is what makes a sun care product eligible for flexible spending account dollars. Luckily, the main requirement is that it keeps the key feature that makes all sunscreens effective: broad spectrum protection.

We've all seen broad spectrum on sunscreen bottles, but what does it really mean? According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, ultraviolet rays are the key causes of sunburn and skin damage, which take the form of UVA, UVB and UVC rays. UVC rays are absorbed in the atmosphere, but the rest of this infrared light trickles down to us. But UVA/UVB rays damage skin in differing ways (University of Iowa):

UVA rays

These rays are the primary contributors to photoaging, or wrinkling of the skin that are most often associated with aging. They do this because they penetrate to deeper skin layers than UVB rays. UVA rays are the toughest to block, and traditional sunscreens are typically more effective in blocking UVB rays.

UVB rays

These are the sun's rays that affect your uppermost skin layers, and are the primary contributors to sunburn. These rays play the most active role in contributing to the formation of skin cancers, which can sometimes arise in dark-colored spots on the skin that can be the early signs of melanoma.

UV forecasts and sunscreen use

No sunscreen will be able to block 100% of UV rays, but broad spectrum sunscreens are the most effective in reducing the chance of sunburn and skin damage from prolonged sun exposure. Always use sunscreen when heading outdoors, but another tip to reduce your UV exposure year-round is to check on the UV Index in your area.

According to the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA), the UV Index is a calculation conducted by the National Weather Service for most ZIP codes across the U.S. to forecast the expected risk of excessive UV radiation.

Typically these are only reported on TV weather forecasts in events of extreme UV sun exposure, but if you want to be proactive about your sun care regimen, the EPA offers a free, downloadable UV Index app so you can be mindful of your risk wherever you're heading.

Sun Care Center

What is mineral sunscreen?

For some, sustainability is not just a practice, it's a lifestyle they embrace with everything they do, and a key deciding factor in the brands they support and the products they use. So when it comes to sun care, these individuals aren't just applying any old chemical sunscreen, they care deeply about its effect on the environment.

In recent years, mineral sunscreen has emerged as one of the top eco-friendly sun care products on the market. But how does it differ from traditional medical sunscreen and is it just as effective? Let's dive in and find out.

Mineral sunscreens vs. traditional sunscreens

To get the latter question out of the way, yes, both of these sunscreen types will help protect you from sunburn and more advanced skin damage if used as directed. Both will absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays to prevent sunburn, but where they really differ is in their ingredients:

Chemical sunscreens

This type of sunscreen has long been the most widely used sunscreen type and is formulated with chemical ingredients that aren't found in nature. The most common active ingredients in chemical, also known as "synthetic" sunscreens include oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene.

Here's where things get interesting: for these sunscreen to work, the active ingredients have to be absorbed into the skin, which may be an issue with those with allergies or sensitive skin, says Consumer Reports.

While these products have proven to be an effective means of preventing sunburn and skin damage, sustainability issues have arisen in recent years about active ingredients like oxybenzone/octinoxate playing an active role in eliminating coral reef populations through bleaching.

Hawaii even took a major step forward to ban sunscreens with these ingredients in mid-2018 (CNN). While other states have not yet followed suit, it is a trend that bears watching and may induce other consumers to make the switch to natural alternatives.

Mineral sunscreens

In addition to having different active ingredients to absorb UV rays, mineral sunscreen has a unique texture that is different from chemical sunscreens that feel more like a moisturizing lotion. Mineral sunscreens utilize active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide, and as such have a different texture and feel a bit lighter on the skin than chemical variants.

However, the key difference with mineral sunscreen is that while chemical versions are absorbed into the skin, mineral sunscreen sits on top of the skin layers and absorbs UV rays in that fashion. So they may be safer choices for those with sensitive skin, as well as small children. Lastly, because mineral sunscreen uses active ingredients that are derived from natural materials, it is eco-friendly and safe to wear everywhere.

Wrapping up...

So which is the right choice? According to the Mayo Clinic, you should always practice year-round sun care with the right sunscreen for your needs, but don't let that lull you into a false sense of security! Even with the best product on the market, a combination of shade, sunscreen, clothing coverage and common sense can keep you and your loved ones protected year-round from the sun's rays.