Best sunscreens for the long haul?

11:16 a.m. on April 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Well, it's getting to be summer again.  A winter of hunkering down in front of the laptop has left me greenish-pale, and I'm looking for advice on good sunscreen for long hikes, rides and runs.  I really, really want to reduce my body chemical burden, so I'm trying to find products that are as natural as possible, and preferably mineral-based.  Any suggestions?

4:57 p.m. on April 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Rocky Mountain Sunscreen. 

What exactly is a mineral-based sunscreen and how is it different/better?

 

 

5:04 p.m. on April 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Believe it or not I typically never use any type of sunscreen due to the canopy I am constantly under during the summer. Only time I really see the sun is when I am crossing roads or on a bald. 

But when I am in an exposed for prolonged periods area I go with a synthetic long sleeve wicking t-shirt.

Thats about as natural as you can get, just make sure it a lighter/brighter color so it doesn't suck the suns heat/rays like a sponge.

Hat wise I like something like  OR's Sun Runner, or their Sunshower Sombrero.

This keeps the ears from turning into dog chew toys. 

I always try to go with alternatives other than a sunsreen or any other topical cream.

I have Eczema. Had it ever since I was a kid and my skin doesn't like much of anything "foreign" applied to it.

 

6:34 p.m. on April 26, 2012 (EDT)
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where a hat ?

6:35 p.m. on April 26, 2012 (EDT)
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And a long sleeved shirt ?

7:33 p.m. on April 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Bullfrog has by far outperformed all other sunscreen/lotions that I have tried. The new trend is waterproof, well Bullfrog has been advertised being waterproof over 20 years ago.  Though no sunscreen is truly waterproof Bullfrog is as good as I have experienced.  As I mainly use sunscreen on my face I still have original Bullfrog from 15+ years ago.  Still going strong and it's now the only one I use unless I forget it at home.  I’m assuming that the current blend is just as good as the old but I don’t know as I’m still working on the old bottle.

8:10 p.m. on April 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Purely on the basis of best performance, I have to agree about bullfrog. It really does an amazing job even with lots of sweat, water, and humidity. And hey, its made in my hometown of Chattanooga :)

But for the natural and low chemical approach, I am not sure. I think Trout has tried a number of those, and recommended one. But I can't remember what it was :) 

8:38 p.m. on April 26, 2012 (EDT)
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I do like Bullfrog, it performs as advertised I think.

I am currently using Badger ( for the last 3 years) which works equally as well for me and rated very well in a recent study - plus it is odorless which I like for backpacking in bear country.

I try to use all odorless products, but I still like Dr. Bronners soap when I'm not worried about bears.

I would like to learn more about low chemical products that are effective. Products like Skin so Soft or Citronella that are used as bug repellants, and which are liked by many people don't work well for me.

I'm always open to ideas.

Mike G.

3:14 p.m. on April 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I may try the Bullfrog & Badger out. It would be nice to be able to use something that doesn't cause a breakout.

Seth, thanks for starting this thread and thanks too everyone else for their suggestions.

Good stuff.

8:18 p.m. on April 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I was at Walmart today and I looked at sunscreens, Burt's Bee's had a product that claimed to be chemical free and was 30 spf. It was a medium size tube and around $14.00.  Sorry I didn't get the specs but I was in a hurry.

Oh...it also came with a "free" lip balm.

Mike G.

2:18 p.m. on April 28, 2012 (EDT)
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leadbelly2550 said:

Rocky Mountain Sunscreen. 

What exactly is a mineral-based sunscreen and how is it different/better?

 

 

http://bit.ly/JIfz9d

3:28 p.m. on April 28, 2012 (EDT)
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trouthunter said:

I was at Walmart today and I looked at sunscreens, Burt's Bee's had a product that claimed to be chemical free and was 30 spf. It was a medium size tube and around $14.00.  Sorry I didn't get the specs but I was in a hurry.

Oh...it also came with a "free" lip balm.

Mike G.

Love Burt's Bees lip balm(all I use.) May have to check that out.

Thanks Mike.

10:59 p.m. on April 28, 2012 (EDT)
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Um, if Burts Bees is claiming to contain no chemicals, they are selling you a container with a full vacuum in it, nothing else.  Every thing on this planet is made up of chemicals.  Some occur naturally, and some are synthesized by man, but all are chemicals.  And just because it is synthesized by man does not mean that it is worse for you than naturally occurring compounds.  If you really feel that everything natural is good for you, go ahead and walk through that poison ivy and let that rattlesnake bite you.  

The request for mineral based makes me think of sunscreen that uses either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as a base.  Both are very effective sunscreens.  I have some Bulfrog that has 7% TiO2, and it works well, but I don't care for the white chalky-feeling stuff on my skin.

I spend most of my backpacking time above 10,000' in full sun, so I have to be very careful about keeping full coverage with hat and sunscreen.

3:48 a.m. on April 29, 2012 (EDT)
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I have used Bullfrog on and off for years. I have some other stuff-Coppertone or something like it, but Bullfrog is still the best in my estimation of all the ones I have tried.

As good as Bullfrog and a few others are, I have spent thousands of hours in the sun and the only real way to prevent burning is to be covered up.

One thing to remember is that you can get totally fried in winter on snow, far worse than you can imagine. Glacier glasses, full cover or the heaviest SPF you can find is the only way to avoid it.

7:44 a.m. on April 29, 2012 (EDT)
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X2 for the covering up bit; couldn't agree more.  Bullfrog is for hands, neck, and face.

1:40 p.m. on April 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Something everyone who took high school or college chemistry should know and remember - if it is matter and not energy, it is "chemical". There is no such thing as a sunscreen or any other substance that is "chemical-free". What people usually mean by this misnomer is that the sunscreen does not contain certain organic compounds (notably PABA).

The most effective broad-spectrum sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. When I started high altitude climbing, we used to use "Clown White" make-up, which is zinc oxide in some sort of base (usually very oily/greasy). You can get straight zinc oxide ointment at your friendly local drug store a lot cheaper than the brand-name sunscreens. Note that the term "sunblock" is deprecated, and in fact currently NOT approved for use on sunscreen products.

SPF refers only to blocking one part of the UV spectrum (UPF is the acronym used in many European countries). Unfortunately, this is the part of the UV spectrum that produces tans, and NOT the part that promotes skin cancer. So look for "broad spectrum" on the label. ZnO and TiO2 are broad spectrum by their basic nature, so look for products that contain one or both. It should be noted that many of the current sun products containing the oxides of zinc and titanium have those encapsulated as nano-particles. There is still a lot of controversy on the safety of nano-particles, since they easily penetrate cell walls. So far, no scientific proof of any risk, though.

The UPF and SPF number refer to the factor by which you can extend the sun exposure compared to bare skin. So SPF 30 means that in 30 minutes you get the same UV with the product compared to 1 minute on bare skin. However, because some of the products are absorbed into the skin and all of them wear off and lose effectiveness with time, you still have to renew every couple hours (that includes Clown White).

If you read the pamphlets passed out by your dermatologist, you will see that the recommended amount to apply is far far greater than most people apply - a small shot-glass full to cover the face, ears, and neck (that's a big tablespoonful). If you put a half-teaspoon on (the amount most people seem to apply), your SPF30 is the equivalent of SPF5 or less. According to my skin docs, the vast majority of people neglect to properly coat their ears. On snow, remember the underside of your chin and nose, as well as wearing appropriate sun glasses on snow (glacier glasses at high altitude - "snow blindness" is sunburned eyeballs). The most painful burn of all is the roof of your mouth, as my partners and I discovered on Denali, when we were "mouth-breathing" and didn't realize how much sun gets reflected from the glacial ice.

In my personal experience at high altitude (18-20 thousand feet and higher), there is a definite difference between SPF30 and SPF50 or SPF80 (highest I can find on a regular basis. Consumer Reports and other publications note that SPF 30 blocks something like 90%, while SPF80 blocks something like 95%, only 5 percentage points more. Yeah, but ... at 18,000 ft, the UV is something like 10 times more intense. So blocking 90% leaves something like 10% of the intensity, which at 18kft leaves you with the sea level amount gettin through. Thus blocking 95% gets you down to half the amount at 18kft than you get on bare skin at sea level. So for us blonde, blue-eyed "white-fellas" do gain a significant benefit (ok, so my hair, what little is left, is white with some strands of grey - which means I need a hat all the time).

My personal practice is to wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts with head coverings all the time in the mountains, especially when on snow. I didn't do that when I was growing up in the Sonora Desert. And we used to say that you might get a sunburn the first couple days in the Sierra, but that would turn to a tan by the 3rd day, so no need for sun cream (most sun creams in those days were intended to speed up tanning!). And now, I visit my dermatologists every 3 or 4 months for liquid nitrogen treatments, biopsies, and the occasional removal of a basal or squamous cell (no melanoma so far, but Barb's father died from melanoma that metastasized). Yes, that is "dermatologists" plural. One does the month to month stuff, the other removes the active stuff (does a great job sewing up the craters left by removal).

Another thing to consider if you go to Africa or someplace else where you are taking medications - if you are taking an antimalarial (which you should in most equatorial countries), a side effect is increasing sun-sensitivity. Other drugs have the same side effect. Read the label on all medications carefully!

11:28 p.m. on April 29, 2012 (EDT)
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the best broad spectrum sunscreens will block UVC, UVA, and UVB rays.  all the active ingredients you usually find in sunscreens block UVB.  I agree with Bill that Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide do a good job on the UVA/UVB spectrum, but they are only marginally effective against UVC.  Avobenzone, like zinc oxide and titanium, provides very broad UVA coverage.  the broadest coverage in the UVC spectrum comes from Octinoxate and Octocrylene.  

sunscreens can claim they are 'broad spectrum' if they combine a number of these active ingredients, which is really the only way to try to cover the full UVA/UVB/UVC spectrum.  respectfully, zinc oxide alone may be inexpensive, but it doesn't cover the full spectrum of dangerous solar rays that we know of today unless it is combined with other active ingredients.  my dad has had several pre-cancerous growths removed after spending a lot of time outside in his life, so we're understandably tuned in to this issue.  

another factor that is worth considering is how long a sunscreen lasts while you are perspiring or swimming.  if it washes off, you aren't being protected, and as we all know, hiking and climbing can often be serious hard work.  no sunscreen is truly sweat proof, nor are any sunscreen manufacturers allowed to claim that they are.  The new Food and Drug Administration regulations provide that sunscreens may claim they can resist water or sweating for either 40 minutes or 80 minutes - that's it.  if i read the regulations correctly, Bullfrog's claim to offer '8 hour waterproof' sunscreen and coppertone sport's claim to be 'waterproof' are no longer permitted.  I have linked an FDA publication about the new regulations:

http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm258416.htm

is there a big difference between the active ingredients used in broad spectrum sunscreens on the market today? among a number of broad spectrum choices, not really.  for example, Bullfrog's 'quik gel sport' spf 36 sunscreen has avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene and oxybenzone.  (note that the original 'surfer gel' sunscreen has different active ingredients that provide less coverage and aren't as effective.  you really have to read the labels).  No titanium or zinc, but that's because avobenzone provides the same UVA protection.  Neutrogena's spf 55 'ultra sheer' sunscreen uses the same active ingredients as bullfrog.  rocky mountain sunscreen uses avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, oxybenzone.  the coppertone sport spf 30 'ultra sweatproof' i used for 2 hours of cycling this morning and almost 3 hours watching soccer games this afternoon? avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene.  i re-applied at lunch.  if you check the labels, you will find many of these use virtually the same percentage of active ingredient as their competitors.  

i wear a tilley hat or something similar with a brim all the way around - cheap straw hats actually work pretty well in hot weather too - and try to re-apply sunscreen regularly when i'm outside.  

8:42 p.m. on May 2, 2012 (EDT)
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consumers union just published ratings for sunscreens.  they liked sunscreens from no-ad, walmart, and coppertone in the spf40+ categories.  interesting information they included in the ratings was price per ounce, which varies widely.  no-ad costs 60 cents an ounce, coppertone tends to cost about twice as much.  some types of neutrogena and blue lizard sunscreen run to $3.50 per ounce.  a 5 oz. bottle of bullfrog's spf 50 'water armor' costs about $1.65 per ounce.  

i just ordered a quart of rocky mountain sunscreen for the summer.  spf 70 avoguard broad spectrum.  even with exorbitant shipping charges, it's about $1.80 per ounce.  in the gallon size, if you use a LOT of sunscreen, the cost is about equivalent to buying coppertone at your local drugstore.  i have 3 kids; we can easily run through a quart in a summer.  

consumers report didn't test bullfrog, badger, or rocky mountain sunscreens.  

REI's take on sunscreens:

http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/sunscreen.html

12:56 a.m. on May 3, 2012 (EDT)
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NEUTROGENA

I use Neutrogena sunscreen for its great protection (rated best by Consumer Reports) and durability. It will leave chalky marks on dark clothing but it easily washes out.

I use 50 or 70 SPF but they DO make 100 SPF!!

10:23 a.m. on May 4, 2012 (EDT)
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I use Neutrogena containing helioplex.

4:25 p.m. on May 5, 2012 (EDT)
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Neurtorgena Sport Face 70 SPF is excellent protection and is very durable, ie., resists water and sweat.

6:17 p.m. on May 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Great topic, Seth. As the OGBO points out, there are a number of ointments which contain a higher level of zinc oxide than many suncreens, and cost less. Desitin comes to mind.

Though I'd suggest that, if one were looking for the most natural option available, a clay poultice would work well. I mean, if you want mineral-based...

With all seriousness though, if you're slathering on lotions all day long you're likely gonna clean up a bit anyways before you hit the sack, so you might want to consider a clay solution made up to about the viscosity of a thick milk-shake. Kaolin or the like--really, any 2:1 clay--will work best. Such a solution should, in theory, also work to reduce moisture loss through the skin, all the while providing a cooling effect as it dries. It would also provide a bit of relief from any bug bites/rashes one might have, as the drying effect is reputed to help draw toxins from the skin.

Depending on the type/duration of activity, you might not need to reapply this poultice any more often than you would with a sunscreen. When you do wash off, you get to sleep easier knowing that you didn't introduce a mess of not-naturally-occurring compounds to the local ecosystem.

Also, since you're sourcing the ingredients from your environment--while giving another use to the old brain-bucket--you don't have to carry so much crap in your pack. Such thinking is perhaps epitomic of UL backpacking philosophy; at any rate your back and knees certainly won't mind the reduced weight...

11:28 p.m. on May 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Tried to link to website with good sunscreen info but this site would not allow.

8:16 a.m. on May 8, 2012 (EDT)
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next time i see the Swamp Thing tramping through the woods, i'll know it's Pillowthread.  i have never used mud as sunscreen, it's a creative idea.  my concern would be that i would sweat the mud off and make a mess out of everything i'm wearing.  

11:44 a.m. on May 8, 2012 (EDT)
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Ha! Exactly! Please though, don't give me credit. Humans (as well as pigs, elephants, hippos...) have been using muds as sunscreen since pre-historic times.

These-days, individuals spend hundreds of dollars for Kaolin mud masks at spas and such; so, keep that in mind when using it! It's good stuff! Find some free sunscreen, get a free $100 facial...not a bad deal...

6:54 p.m. on May 8, 2012 (EDT)
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I use a tan and aloe vera. Your going to burn in the summer heat. The trick is to get the tan early in the season and it will keep you going all summer. I have been outside for the last few weeks doing yard work shirt off and I have a great tan already. Just make sure not to overdo it in the beginning.

7:10 p.m. on May 8, 2012 (EDT)
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Ha! Exactly! Please though, don't give me credit. Humans (as well as pigs, elephants, hippos...) have been using muds as sunscreen since pre-historic times.

These-days, individuals spend hundreds of dollars for Kaolin mud masks at spas and such; so, keep that in mind when using it! It's good stuff! Find some free sunscreen, get a free $100 facial...not a bad deal...

 

It also will help from getting chewed up as bad from the flying biting critters...

Well, maybe not Vampire Bats and Teradactyls but for the bugs it will definitely help.

10:40 a.m. on May 9, 2012 (EDT)
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'you are going to burn' - respectfully, i disagree with that, and the notion that a suntan can protect you from skin cancer.  the Center for Disease Control concurs.  the site below contains the CDC's views on how to protect yourself:

http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/prevention.htm

you are going to burn if you expose your skin to the sun unprotected.   

9:05 a.m. on May 16, 2012 (EDT)
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lambertiana said:

The request for mineral based makes me think of sunscreen that uses either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as a base.  Both are very effective sunscreens.  

  I am now using something labeled "Earth's Best -- Organic".   Supposedly (according to the label) a sunBLOCK, not a sunSCREEN.

8% Ti02 ... 2.5% zinc-oxide ... in a neutral mineral base.   SPF 30.

I spend a lot of time on / in the water.   Sailing the Chesapeake, surfing in the Atlantic.

The problem I have with most of these products, is I can't apply them to my chest, and the front of my legs, as they transfer to the top of my waxed surfboards, making it impossible to stand-up on the slippery surface.   Fortunately, there are 'grippy-pads' that apply with a peel-off adhesive, for some areas at the rear of the boards.   Not for the chest-area, though ... the middle of the board.

                                    ~ r2 ~

11:41 a.m. on May 16, 2012 (EDT)
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rash shirts work real well for keeping the sun off.

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