Protective 'cocktail' screens that go on every which way


So you don't like the feel of scratchy sand stuck in your sun lotion? Or maybe you have an aversion to chemical ingredients, oils or even the scent of faux coconut?

Sorry, not valid excuses for skipping sunscreen any more.

This year there are a dozen sunscreen applications to choose from &

sprays, dry oils, powders and even wipes &

and many with new, more effective ingredient "cocktails" that promise to protect better than ever.

And most of them work when used properly, says Dr. Amy Wechsler, a Manhattan dermatologist who serves as a member of The American Academy of Dermatology and The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Many of the newer ingredients target UVA rays. UVA rays are farther away and weaker than UVB rays (those are the kind that make you feel hot), but can dig deeper into the skin and ultimately can affect the dermis, Wechsler says.

"A lot of the American companies are trying to max out what's available here and I think they've done a pretty good job," she says.

Consumers, though, might find shopping for a broad-spectrum sunscreen confusing because they've been trained to make choices based on sun protection factor or SPF ratings, which only measure protection against UVB rays.

"SPF is a small measurement of UV. There is so much else going on," says researcher Debbie D'Aquino, Clinique's vice president of global product development.

There are some key ingredients to look for:

""Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide: Both natural ingredients that are physical blocks against the rays. They sit on top of the skin and keep the light from penetrating it.

""Parsol 1789, aka avobenzone: One of the most common &

and effective &

chemical absorbers of UV light. Unlike blocks, absorbers need 30 minutes before they'll fully work.

""Chemical absorbers octocrylene and benzophenone: D'Aquino warns the latter has a reputation for being irritating to sensitive skin.

""Mexoryl SX: The first new sunscreen filter approved by the FDA in 18 years. It's considered "photostable," which means that after exposure to the sun, it maintains its protective ability longer and doesn't degrade as quickly as other UV filters.

""Helioplex: Used in Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunscreen, this ingredient combines avobenzone with oxybenzone for a more stable combination that doesn't lose blocking powers after continued exposure to sunlight.

Dr. Warwick Morison, a professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University, says the key words to look for on the label are "broad-band," "broad-spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection." And make sure it says water-resistant, too. "It's pointless, in my opinion, to buy a sunscreen that doesn't stay on your skin," he says.

And the minimum SPF for all skin types in all climates of the U.S. is 15, he advises.

"Fifteen is for a person who has fair skin, tends to burn, tans with difficulty. But you can have a person who tans very easily, doesn't burn, but she'll complain about freckles on her chest. The damage is just showing up in a different way," Morison, chairman of the photobiology committee of The Skin Cancer Foundation, says.

For many people, how the sunscreen goes on is just as important as what is in it.

Over the past few years, the industry has not only expanded its list of active ingredients but also the forms sunscreens take. The success of Coppertone's Continuous Spray, launched in 2005, seems to have produced a steady stream of non-lotion applications in an effort to court consumers turned off by the traditional white lotion that for some was too sticky or greasy.

No matter which form you choose, Wechsler reminds users to use a thick coat. She recommends three ounces of sunscreen, reapplying every two hours.

Beth Janes, Self magazine's senior beauty features editor, picks aerosol sprays and "dry" lotions as newer forms of sunscreen that solve common complaints about texture. She says:

""Aerosols make it easier to cover hard-to-reach spots, such as the back. Men particularly like that they don't have to rub the sunscreen into their body hair.

""Dry-touch sunscreens with a high content of silica are technically lotions but they're absorbed so quickly into the skin there's never a feeling of wetness. "It feels really great and is good for oily skin."

""Gels also are good for oily skin because they tend to have a higher alcohol content.

For kids, though, Wechsler likes the continuous sprays. "I like that you can twist and get close. A child is a moving target. This gives more product per spritz," she says.

Don't spray the face, though, because just about all sunscreens burn the eyes. Spray in your hands and then rub it on the face &

a waterproof or water-resistant formula will help keep sunscreen from dripping into your eyes when you go swimming or start to sweat.

There also are new sunscreens targeting people who have made botanical-based beauty products part of their routine.

Burt's Bees, for one, is touting a new chemical-free sunscreen that uses a combination of titanium dioxide and hempseed oil. The company says it uses nanotechnology to get the formula to such a fine size so that it has a translucent appearance instead of the thick opaque white cream that most people associate with titanium or zinc.

Meanwhile, Clinique has added plankton extract liposomes to one of its sunscreens. Researcher D'Aquino says one of plankton's enzymes has the capacity to reverse damage to the plant after repeated sun exposure and it seems to do the same to the skin.

"There are some plants and teas that are good sunscreens," agrees Wechsler, naming green tea, seaweed, plankton and algae as good candidates.

But don't go rubbing some seaweed on your skin and declare yourself protected just yet.

"You probably wouldn't be able to do this on the beach unless you brought a blender. You need what's inside the plants," she says.

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