Do Skincare Products Make Sunscreen Less Effective ?

We all know that SPF is a must for protecting sun-exposed skin, and we also know that the more we expose our skin to the sun, the more skincare we need to use to keep our skin hydrated, soft, and supple - but could the two efforts be counteracting one another? 

The answer is yes - and no. In other words, it depends on what kind of sunscreen you are using and in what order you’re applying these products. 

Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen - What’s the difference? 

Earth advocates and green beauty queens already know that mineral sunscreens (also known as physical sunscreens) are better for the environment, and while this is reason enough to stick with this type of SPF, a mineral sunscreen is also going to work as an occlusive, meaning it can optimize the rest of your skincare routine by locking moisture in. 

Chemical sunscreens contain active ingredients that penetrate the skin and absorb UV rays and then release them as heat. 

A mineral sunscreen is also called a ‘physical sunscreen’ because it literally sits on the surface of your skin like a physical barrier and deflects UV rays. 

“I hate that it doesn’t absorb into my skin, though.” 

Chemical sunscreens have been the top choice among consumers in recent decades because people dislike having something on their skin that doesn’t absorb and disappear. The problem is that what you’re absorbing might be hurting your health - and the health of our ecosystems. 

There are a number of common ingredients used in chemical sunscreens that have been flagged as potentially harmful to both us and our environment, but the main two causing the greatest concern are oxybenzone and octinoxate. Both effectively protect against UV radiation, but have also been identified as potential hormone disruptors and have been shown to be contributors to the bleaching of coral reefs.

“How bad are they really?” 

There is much conflicting information online, particularly on their effect on humans, but in 2018, Hawaii became the first state to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreens due to their effects on coral reefs. The bill came into effect in January of this year. Considering Hawaii’s population having a greater threat of skin cancer due its close proximity to the equator, this speaks volumes about the impact these chemicals are having on the environment - as well as Hawaii’s confidence in alternative solutions for sun protection.

“What if I’m not swimming in the ocean?” 

Many studies have reported that oxybenzone and octinoxate are being detected in the ocean as well as other natural bodies of water, but they’re also being detected in our drinking water. Even if you’re not swimming, if you’re showering, these chemicals can end up in our water supply. Detectable levels of oxybenzone and octinoxate have also been found in human urine, blood, and breast milk.

“How is sunscreen affected by skincare?” 

If you’re using a chemical sunscreen, you’ll need to make sure your skin can fully absorb the product in order for the UV protection to be fully effective. Using moisturizer, lotions, or body mists beforehand can interfere with and compromise the level of protection. 

When using a mineral sunscreen, because you’re creating that physical barrier on the surface of the skin, you’re actually just locking in the moisture provided by your hydrating skincare products. Read more on how this works here.

Pre-Sun Skincare Routine

- Cleanse (if you cleanse in the morning) or hydrate the face with a splash of water

- Draw more moisture into the skin with a humectant like hyaluronic acid (included in Woodlot’s Rose Water Toner

- Apply your moisturizer (which will likely include some emollients, typically oils, that fill in the spaces between dead skin cells, helping your skin to feel and appear smoother) 

- Apply body lotion 

- Add protection in the form of your mineral sunscreen, locking in all the moisture you’ve applied and creating a barrier against the sun 

- Wait at least fifteen minutes before going out into the sun 

If you’re out in the sun all day, you’ll want to keep a water bottle nearby (a reusable one, of course!) so that you can continuously hydrate your body. Your skin deserves the same amount of attention. Pack a hydrating body mist (Rose & Palo or Flora are recommended for skin) or a water-based lotion to use before reapplying your mineral sunscreen. The best thing about this routine, is that when the hydrators smell great, you’ll have no problem remembering to reapply sunscreen throughout the day - as you’ll be counting down the minutes until you can spritz or lather up again with your favorite Woodlot scent! 

No joke - some experts have warned that those who wear sunscreen are actually more likely to get burnt, because they apply sunscreen once and then overestimate how much ‘safe time’ they actually have out in the sun. Pay close attention to the instructions printed on the bottle and set a timer on your phone if you think you might get distracted. 

“So, you’re saying I should go with a Mineral Sunscreen?” 

If we sound biased, it’s because we are. Not just because we believe strongly in a product that optimizes your skincare rituals vs. limits them. But also because mineral sunscreens seem to be the clear choice for taking good care of not just your skin, but your entire body - as well as the environment. 

One caveat on mineral sunscreen is that you may want to avoid spray versions. To make mineral-based sunscreens usable and more effective, nanosized versions of minerals (meaning: measured in nanometers or billionths of a meter) are created to increase clarity and SPF. As more research is done to understand which nanoparticles might harm cells or organs if introduced into our bodies, EWG.org recommends you steer clear of SPF sprays to reduce your chance of inhaling these particles. 

And keep in mind that there are other forms of sun protection beyond sunscreen. Indeed, skincancer.org warns that sunscreen should never be the be-all-end-all of sun protection. Fashion and beauty have always gone hand in hand, so invest in your skin with a wide-brimmed hat, UV-blocking sunnies, and a chic, long-sleeved sun shirt or dress. Wet suits and rash guards make excellent protection for water activities and seeking shade in between activities always makes good sun-sense. 

It’s also good to remember that a tan is a form of sun protection. Us Canadians are often so sun-deprived all winter long that as soon as summer hits, many of us will get together with friends for a full day of sun exposure, often without heeding any (or little) of the above advice. This is a surefire way to get burnt, and over time, can lead to worse. 

Instead, make it your early summer tradition to ease your way into spending time in the sun. Begin with just an hour or two, here and there. Meet a friend at the park in the late afternoon. Lounge for an hour on the patio at your neighbourhood cafe, enjoying your first iced coffee of the year. Dip your toes in before diving into a full-on beach day or weekend camping trip. Once you’ve got a good base tan going, your precious skin won’t be quite as vulnerable. You’ll still want to lather up and bring a cute sun hat, of course, but every little bit helps! 

“Where can I get a healthy, reef-safe sunscreen that works great?”

Ask the experts. Visit skincancer.org’s Recommended Products page here. You’ll be able to enter in a series of preferences before reaching a page of recommendations specific to your needs.

Already have a sunscreen at home or one in mind? Visit EWG’s website and search it to view their rating of the product. You’ll find a rating for effectiveness as well as safety. 

Keep in mind that “reef safe” is a relatively new term that doesn’t have a legal definition yet. It should refer to products that do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. But we love EWG because they go above and beyond in providing you with everything to know about the product you’re using or considering. Be sure to utilize them as a resource. 

At Woodlot we love to connect with other like-minded brands! Let us know what SPF brand you love by posting about them and tagging us (@woodlot). Doing so could result in a future giveaway or some other form of collaboration between your two favorite skincare brands! 

Happy safe-sunning! 

Woodlot xo

cover photo by Alison Page (@alisonmpage)

all other images by Sheena Zilinski (@sheenazilinski)