The dog days of summer are settling in now in Oregon, with temperatures in the Portland metro area expected to hit triple digits by the middle of next week. Which means it’s time to break out the sunscreen and slather it on, particularly if you’re planning to hit the community pool or the river to beat the heat.
In recent years, an array of local companies have begun making and selling their own sunscreens, a nice way to shop local for an essential product, avoiding the mass-produced Coppertones and Banana Boats of the world.
But sunscreen is not a casual purchase—this isn't an area for impulse buys, says Dr. Sancy Leachman, the chair of the Department of Dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University.
“If you go through every type of evidence to show whether or not something is carcinogenic, UV light checks that box, absolutely,” she says. “You should protect yourself because you’re being exposed to a carcinogen. And you don’t want that to lead to cancer.
That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to glop on the SPF 70, however. What kind of sunscreen you chose depends on your complexion, your chances of developing melanoma, how capable your skin tone is of withstanding UV light, and a personal risk/benefit calculation best discussed with your own doctor. (For example, here in the usually rainy Pacific Northwest, the lack of year-round Vitamin D can put some of us at risk for osteoperosis—meaning that a little sunlight exposure might actually be okay for that group, Leachman says.)
There are, however, a few constants to consider in the sunscreen aisle, Leachman says. Always make sure that whatever you buy has an SPF—or Sun Protection Factor—clearly labeled on the exterior of the packaging. That means it has been through rigorous testing by the federal Food and Drug Administration to prove that it affords a particular level of protection and won’t wear off immediately. (If the bottle says “equivalent” to a SPF level, put it down, Leachman says; that’s not proven to work.)
She herself usually chooses SPF 25 or 30, and says she prefers mineral sunscreens, or non-chemical versions, in which the active ingredient is either zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both. Some people find that mineral sunscreen cause skin breakouts; in that case, look for a chemical version with mexoryl or helioplex, which absorb the sun’s rays, instead of reflecting them, the way a mineral sunscreen will do.
To figure out what’s right for you—especially in an era when sunscreens come in lotions, sprays, rub-on sticks, and powders, and can be loaded with the benignest of ingredients like coconut oil and aloe vera—Leachman recommends doing a “use test”: Apply a little bit of your chosen sunscreen to a discreet patch of skin and make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction or get a burn.
For those looking to keep it local, here are five Oregon-made choices to consider:
Brush on Block: This mineral-based, SPF 30 product has titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as its active ingredients. The innovation here is that it’s applied like blush, dusted on with a brush, so it’s made to go on top of makeup without causing smudges or smears; it’s intended to stay on for 80 minutes before you need to reapply, and promises to hold up to sweaty hikes or prolonged pool dips. The line was founded in Portland by CEO Andrea Wetsel and has gotten a lot of press from women’s magazines in particular, including recent shoutouts from Elle and InStyle. $34 for .12 ounces, or about a 3-month supply. Find it at brushonblock.com.
Essance Skincare: If you’re playing Portland product bingo, this one hits alllll the notes. The Portland-based company’s products, including its Sun Factor Crème sunscreen are handcrafted, herbal, organic, and vegan. Ingredients do include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (along with soothing-sounding chamomile, lavender, orange blossom, peppermint, and organic shea butter, among others), but crucially, this one isn’t labeled with an SPF number, one of Leachman’s red flags—definitely calls for a use test. $14 for 2 ounces or $22 for 4 ounces, via essanceskincare.com.
Earth Mama Organics: This Clackamas-based company first made a splash with its products for babies, kids and pre/postpartum parents, but has evolved its product line over the years. Now it includes a tinted mineral sunscreen lotion with a SPF 40 rating. The packaging foregrounds organic raspberry seed oil and organic argan oil, and the active ingredient here is zinc oxide, clearly labeled as 25 percent of the product’s makeup. There’s even a helpfully honest notation that the lotion’s tint has been known to rub off on light-colored towels, though any marks should come out in the wash—they still recommend you stay away from white towels. Note that this one needs reapplications every 40 minutes or so. $19.99 for 3 ounces, at earthmamaorganics.com.
Zealios: A totally different vibe from this Bend-based company, which markets sunscreens formulated especially for the extreme athlete. (They also make anti-chafing lotion, chlorine-and-sweat removal shampoos, and other niche products.) Their reef-safe Sun Barrier sunscreen is labeled as SPF 50, and includes zinc oxide as well as a whole host of other hard-to-spell ingredients. It needs to be reapplied after an hour and 20 minutes of “swimming or sweating;” customer reviews praise the product for not stinging the eyes if (when!) you sweat during a half-marathon. $18 for a 3 ounce tube at teamzealios.com.
Redneck Company: Folks, we’ve got a winner for best tagline from this Medford-based company, which also makes the only spray sunscreen on our list. “Your mullet is not enough protection from the sun’s rays,” the company would like you to know—and remember kids, “It’s cool to be a Redneck, but it’s not cool to have a red neck.” (The company’s founders say skin cancer killed their father too soon, and now they are out for ‘revenge.’) Their SPF 50 spray is billed as reef safe; the active ingredients are avobenzone, homosalate, and octocrylene. $11.99 for 6 ounces at redneckcompany.com