Do Sunscreen Alternatives Really Work?

Shannon Farrell

sunscreen alternatives

We all know how important sunscreen is to our skin’s health, and with the warm weather coming up, we’re ready to slather ourselves in SPF one million yet again. But over the past few years, SPF alternatives have hit the market: everything from SPF-infused makeup to drinkable sunscreen. But do these sunscreen alternatives actually work? We caught up with Rhonda Klein, MD/MPH, a board certified dermatologist, to find out.

Alternative: UPF (Ultraviolet Protective Factor) Clothing.
Does it work: Yes.
Since most people don’t apply enough sunscreen (you need one shot glass amount for each part of the body), clothing can offer even more protection, says Dr. Klein. “As long as you have the proper UPF, you don’t need sunscreen underneath,” says Dr. Klein. UPF ratings, which measure how much ultraviolet light fabric can block, are comparable to SPF—so anything from 30-50 UPF offers 97-99 percent sun protection. “Clothing with darker colors, a tighter weave or synthetic fabrics all block harmful rays better than loosely woven clothing with natural fibers.”

And if you don’t want to buy special UPF clothing, you can add the protection to your current wardrobe. “There’s a product called Sun Guard ($3.99) which you put into the washing machine, and it actually adds sun protection [up to UPF 30] to your clothing.”

Alternative: SPF Makeup.
Does it work: Kind of.
“Makeup with SPF is great as a base, but it’s definitely not giving you the protection of sunscreen,” says Dr. Klein. To get the same amount of sun protection from your cosmetics as you get from regular sunscreen, you’d need to apply seven times the normal amount of SPF-containing foundation and about 14 times the normal amount of powder.

Makeup also breaks down some of the chemicals in sunscreen, so you’d need to reapply that amount of makeup every two hours to get the proper amount of protection. And who has time for that? Instead, Klein recommends applying a daily moisturizer with SPF underneath your makeup. And for sunscreen reapplications without redoing your makeup, she recommends SPF powders, like Colorscience Sunforgettable Mineral Sunscreen Brush SPF 30 ($57). “It’s an easy way to reapply throughout the day, and it’s better than nothing.”

Alternative: Ingested SPF.
Does it work: No way.
Drinkable sunscreen is the latest skincare trend, but water that offers sun protection sounds too good to be true to us. Turns out, it is—and Dr. Klein pulls no punches in explaining why. “The way these sunscreens claim to work is that the water molecules just below the surface of the skin vibrate and emit frequencies that will cancel out the burn-causing frequencies caused by UVA and UVB rays. This is scientifically impossible, from everything that I’ve read.”

That being said, she does recommend Heliocare Daily Use Antioxidant Formula ($30), a supplement that offers some protection. “While this product should not replace sunscreen, it can help patients with the propensity to burn. They believe it works by decreasing the amount of free radicals on the skin.” However, because it’s ingested and has to go through so many systems before it’s released into the skin, it can’t offer the same protection as topical SPF—so don’t throw away your regular sunscreen just yet.

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