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Unless you’re a dermatologist (or a sunscreen maker), you’ve likely regarded the advice to wear sunscreen every single day as overly cautious and possibly even paranoid. But recent research (that initially seemed to state only the obvious: sunscreen works) proves the importance of regular, year-round sunscreen application if you want to prevent sun damage and photoaging.

Research sheds light

In the first human study of its kind (most similar studies have been conducted on animals), research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2013 looked at 900 people ages 25 to 55 living in Australia. Findings showed that wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 daily for four years slowed and even prevented the development of wrinkles and sagging skin caused by UV rays. Half of the participants also took beta-carotene supplements, but that showed no correlation with preventing skin aging.

Though the research did not compare natural (mineral) versus chemical sunscreens, it does hint at the importance of choosing natural. Why? More than half of conventional beach and sport sunscreens contain oxybenzone, a chemical that the Environmental Working Group gives a high-hazard “8” ranking for its link to cellular damage and endocrine disruption. Research in Environmental Science and Technology showed benzophenone chemicals may have stronger estrogenic activities than even bisphenol-A (BPA); a form of benzo-phenone called benzophenone-1, created when the body breaks down oxybenzone, was associated with endometriosis. So because you’re applying sunscreen daily, using products with these ingredients could equal unhealthy exposure. 

Put it on

Experts agree: Wear sunscreen, but make it safe. “You’re better off using some sunscreen rather than nothing and better off using a mineral version because you can get higher UV coverage” without toxin exposure, says Guy Langer, founder of personal care consulting company Qumulus Group. That said, “the risk of going in the sun and not having SPF is greater than even using a chemical sunscreen.”

If you’re a parent, you are probably especially conscious of babies’ and children’s more absorbent skin, so you’ll prioritize both daily sun care and natural products—made with minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, along with nourishing plant-based ingredients—for your kids. And if you’re a busy woman, look for moisturizers, color-correcting creams, and foundations that incorporate UV-ray-fighting ingredients as a convenient way to ensure daily sun protection.

Bottom line: If you’re about to spend time in the sun and only have a bottle of chemical sunscreen, either cover up with clothes or go ahead and apply it. But then head for your natural products retailer and stock up on a natural, mineral-based option to face sunny days in the safest possible way.