What sunscreen should you use? 

Whether you are heading south over March break or not, wearing sunscreen is important for skin health. The UV rays from the sun can have damaging effects and while sunburn is never fun, neither is your risk of skin cancer.

What does sunscreen actually do?

Sunscreen blocks UV radiation from penetrating your skin. This UV radiation is a concern because it can damage DNA cells, which can increase the risk of cancer developing. There are two types of sunscreens:

  1. Chemical

    • Absorb light in their chemical bonds so that your skin doesn’t
      • They include:
        • Avobenzone
        • Oxybenzone
        • Octisalate
        • Octocrylene
        • Homosalate
        • Octinoxate
  2. Mineral

    • Physically deflect light
      • They include:
        • Zinc oxide
        • Titanium dioxide

What does SPF mean?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and describes how well the product will protect you against a certain type of UV radiation called UVB. The number associated with it, for example SPF 30, is how many times longer your skin can last before getting red if you didn’t have anything on. For instance, if your skin normally gets red after 15 min in the sun, a SPF of 30 would prolong that from happening for 450 min (30×15).

Most sunscreens on the North American Market are great at blocking UVB rays. The sun is made up of 2 types of UV rays : UVA and UVB.  UVB has been shown to be associated with sunburn and cancer forming cells and the SPF seen on bottles relate to their effectiveness against UVB rays. The other type of ray, UVA, penetrates deep into the skin causing premature wrinkling, age spots and the potential for some skin cancers. Currently there is no standard listing for UVA blocking power so it is unsure how much sunscreens (especially ones of the chemical type) actually protect against this type of ray. It is thought that mineral sunscreens block both rays as they physically deflect the light. 

Which type of sunscreen should you use?

Mineral sunscreens are deemed “safer” as they block both UVA and UVB rays and don’t have hormone mimicking or allergic effects like its chemical counter parts. The caveat to mineral sunscreens is that they may look white or have a whiter colouring. Technology, however, has improved to work on reducing this colouring effect.

Ingredients to AVOID in  sunscreens

Most sunscreens on the market contain the chemical filters listed above. A potential concern arises as a very common sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone has shown, in animal studies, to mimic hormones and cause allergic reactions. It is thought that it can alter testosterone and estrogen levels in both male and females- which becomes quite concerning in children and adolescent populations as well as in women trying to conceive or are pregnant. While the extent of this hormone disruption is unknown, it is better to avoid this ingredient if given a choice.


Getting a mineral based sunscreen is best. It safely blocks the sun without exposing you to hormone disrupting or allergic risks. A minimum SPF of 30 is recommended, with re-application every 2 hours if not sweating or exposed to water.

Want to learn more? Head on over to the  Environmental Working Group EWG website on tips for choosing the right sunscreen for you and your family.

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Emmanuelle Ravez Gomez    RMT,CDT
 Tel: 416-533-2639
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