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):
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Summer's here, and that means long days, plenty of sunshine and the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors with your loved ones. As you prep for the many adventures ahead, sun protection should be at the top of your list of priorities. But before you reach for that dusty bottle of sunscreen you stored last fall, it may be wise to check the expiration date first!
Is last year's sunscreen still effective?
First and foremost, the best indicator of the current state of your old sunscreen is to look at the expiration date. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, to test shelf life, manufacturers store a product at 40°C with 75 percent humidity; then at 40°C with 25 percent humidity; and then test it at 0, 1, 2 and 3 months.
Stability for three months in these laboratory conditions is comparable to three years in normal environments. In the vast majority of cases, you can reliably expect your sunscreen to last at least 3 years from the date you purchased it and the expiration date is a reliable indicator of its effectiveness.
In addition to the importance of the expiration date, you should also be mindful of the look and feel of the sunscreen to ensure that it hasn't broken down from one season to the next. The Mayo Clinic advises individuals and families to avoid previously-used sunscreens that may have obvious changes in color or consistency, as they may have lost their efficacy over time.
Where should I store my sunscreen?
At the end of each summer, most sunscreen is tucked away underneath the bathroom sink or stored in a closet, which may not be the best location for extending their shelf life. According to Drugs.com, sunscreen should be stored at room temperature, between 59 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, it should be kept in a dark space to prevent light from causing the ingredients to separate.
So, in most cases, the fluctuating temperature and humidity levels of bathrooms are not the ideal spots for storing sunscreen, so stick with the dark, room temperature closet, instead.
Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen
Protect yourself from harmful UVA/UVB rays in the water and the sun with this sunscreen spray.
Coppertone Kids Sunscreen
This sunscreen has 80 minutes of water resistance, and stays on strong when kids play.