Fact or Fiction: Moisturizers with SPF are as effective as sunscreen.

Written by Catherine Atzen, L.E., founder of ATZEN Superior to Organic™ Skin Care

Clients often wonder whether it is better to use a sunscreen or a two-in-one product that combines the properties of both a moisturizer and a sunscreen. Furthermore, is it even safe to use a sunscreen daily, year round?

A sunscreen's basic function is to prevent sunburns. A moisturizer brings hydration and comfort to the skin and, if makeup is worn, it can serve as a primer. High-end moisturizers also have nutrients, antioxidants, and corrective ingredients that help to achieve results such as reducing signs of aging, pigmentation, or acne. 

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Is it possible to incorporate all of those ingredients into one product and get a great moisturizer with a sunscreen that is healthy and safe for daily use? The answer depends on a number of factors:

The Type of Sunscreen Being Used – There are two natural mineral ingredients used in sunscreens: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that are derived from petrochemicals/crude oil and include oxybenzone, ovobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and octyl methoxycinnamate. These products are cheaper than mineral sunscreens, but have a strong odor and feel sticky. Scientific data supports that chemical sunscreens have negative effects on human health; they are hormone disruptors and carcinogens and enter the blood stream and organs.

The Utilization of Boosters – Boosters increase the sunscreen's SPF protection and make it possible to achieve a high SPF index with less sunscreen. They also improve the look and feel of the product.

The Consumer's Price Point – High-end ingredients at a high percentage are expensive, especially when they are natural. In general, complex formulas cost more.

SPF Challenges – It is complicated to formulate sunscreens with a high SPF, especially when using mineral ingredients, and combine them with numerous high-end ingredients. It takes talent and experience to formulate these products and have them pass the stability, water-resistant, and SPF tests.

However, it is possible to create a daily, top-of-the-line moisturizer with an SPF of 15 to 30 that protects the skin from over 99 percent of ultraviolet exposure. An SPF of 50 or more is recommended for sports, extended sun exposure, and when sweating or swimming. It is not necessary to wear such high a SPF on a daily basis because the protection rises by less than 1 percent when compared to SPF 30. Regardless of the SPF number, all sunscreens can be formulated with top-of-the-line zinc oxide as the sole sun-protection ingredient. Products with an SPF of 50 or more can be formulated with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, thereby avoiding chemicals.

Mineral sunscreens are safe to use on the face, even around the eyes, when the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are free of toxins and heavy metals. Keep in mind that products that use cheaper versions of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide may not be free of heavy metals and other pollutants. Oftentimes, these products do not spread as smoothly and leave a white or ashy residue. The cost of the highest-quality zinc oxide is six times higher than the price of the lowest-quality form of the ingredient. This gap in ingredient cost explains price variations.

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