This or That: A Brief Look at Lightweight Sunscreens

Skin Care
The two sunscreens are so similar that they might as well be twins!

I’m writing this ad hoc post in reponse to the overwhelming positive feedback and accompanying questions that I received in my post on the complexation interaction between niacinamide and L-ascorbic acid that I wrote a few days ago.

One of the most prevalent concerns brought up was about the fact that many of the readers absolutely love the EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 sunscreen, which contains a high amount of niacinamide, and refuse to discontinue use because it’s so fantastic. And I agree that it’s an excellent option, as I recommended it in the final part of the series that discussed whether inorganic sunscreens were better than organic ones.

However, because the UV Clear contains a lot of niacinamide, it should not be used with L-ascorbic acid because the interaction between the two may produce the very pro-oxidative compound hydrogen peroxide (as I indicated in the previous post). Despite my many recommendations and other potential workarounds, most people seem dead-set on using this product. And I don’t blame them, it sits really well on the skin and/or underneath makeup!

So for the past two days, I’ve been racking my brain and surfing through various skin care databases to find a suitable replacement. I think I’ve finally found a very, VERY close dupe that doesn’t contain niacinamide and can certainly be used with L-ascorbic acid products!! Without further ado, here we go!

Behold, the PCA skin Weightless Protection SPF 45 sunscreen!

Let’s compare the ingredients side-by-side to determine how similar the two products are.

The EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 contains niacinamide.

EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46: Zinc Oxide 9%, Octinoxate 7.5%.  Purified Water, Cyclomethicone, Niacinamide, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Polyisobutene, PEG-7 Trimethylolpropane Coconut Ether, Sodium Hyaluronate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Lactic Acid, Oleth-3 Phosphate, Phenoxyethanol, Butylene Glycol, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane.

The PCA skin Weightless Protection SPF 45 contains Silybum marianum extract.

PCA skin Weightless Protection SPF 45: Zinc Oxide (9.0%), Octinoxate (7.5%).  Water, Cyclomethicone, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Polyisobutene, PEG-7 Trimethylolpropane Cocnut Ether, Sodium Hyaluronate, Silybum Marianum Extract, Caffeine, Tocopheryl Acetate, Oleth-3 Phosphate, Butylene Glycol, Lodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Phenoxyethanol, Triethoxycaprylylsilane.

As you can see, the ingredients are virtually identical, and they’re also listed in the same order. This may be because the two brands have the same manufacturer and have just had the same product rebranded and customized for private-label use. These characteristics lead me to believe that the texture, finish, and longevity of the two sunscreens should be pretty much the same. Another interesting similarity: the prices are almost the same ($30 vs $29; both contains 1.7 oz), which further substantiates that the two products are made by the same manufacturer; not to mention that the SPF ratings are just a single point off (45 vs 46).

The only notable difference is that the EltaMD features niacinamide as the beneficial non-sunscreen ingredient, while the PCA skin features silybum marianum extract. And that’s good news! Not only does the PCA skin product NOT contain niacinamide (so there won’t be any interaction with L-ascorbic acid, not to mention that niacinamide doesn’t have any notable photoprotective properties against UV light), it instead contains the powerful Silybum marianum extract, which DOES have notable photoprotective properties including: the prevention of UV-induced pro-inflammatory and immunosuppressive cytokine synthesis and the reduction of oxidative stress from hydrogen peroxide and nitric oxide expressing cells. This ingredient will definitely enhance the photoprotective capacities of vitamins C, E, and any of the other ones typically used.

I hope this post helps the many of you guys who have fallen in love with the EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 sunscreen, but have upon reading the previous post, entertained the idea of finding a replacement product, though without success. So please give the PCA skin Weightless Protection SPF 45 sunscreen a try! I think it will be a very worthy successor!

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  • @Madeline

    There is no difference between something called a “sunscreen” and a “moisturizer with SPF.” They’re the same exact thing. It’s purely semantics. I’ll definitely be doing a post about this in the future because I see so many people asking me about this. 🙂

    All I can tell you that the PCA sunscreen is moisturizing enough for an oilier skin type; therefore it’s a moisturizer with SPF as well as a sunscreen. They are the same. However, if you have a drier skin type, you may want to use an additional moisturizer underneath it; something with a lot of antioxidants would work perfectly. It really just depend on how dry or oily your skin is.

    Here’s my general recommendation: Apply a separate antioxidant product underneath your sunscreen. However, what form it takes (whether as a super light gel-based moisturizer or a more emollient cream0based moisturizer) depends on each individual.

    Does that make sense?

    Even if it doesn’t, go and have some fun tonight! Think about this tomorrow. Happy Halloween!

  • Madeline

    Thanks John! I can see how my question was confusing. I’ve been thinking about switching from the LRP because of the lower SPF rating. HOWEVER, the LRP is actually a MOISTURIZER with SPF rather than a straight sunscreen. So I was wondering if the PCA Sunscreen you recommend is moisturizing as well or would it require an additional moisturizer? I have combination skin that gets flaky with product use and I live in a dry climate.

  • @Madeline

    Thanks for reading. I don’t quite understand your question, though. You’re seem to be asking me if I recommend using moisturizer under sunscreen. Yet, you’re saying how well you like the LRP sunscreen because it’s already so moisturizing… Do you see the conflict of interest?

    But anyways, as long as you’re applying enough sunscreen, SPF 15 is perfectly fine for everyday use. I mean SPF 15 is absorbing about 93% of UV rays; SPF 30 is just about 4% more at 97%. So it’s not that huge of a difference. What’s important to is apply enough, and to make sure the sunscreen also provides excellent UVA protection. This particular sunscreen provides good, though not excellent UVA protection. Fortunately, it is quite stable due to the presence of so much octocrylene (10%). I do wish however, that 3% of avobenzone was used rathern than 2%.

    Let me know what you’re trying to ask, so that we can move forward from there.

    Happy Halloween!

  • Madeline

    Fantastic article, John! Do you recommend using a moisturizer under these sunscreens? My skin dries out from using lots of chemicals and so during the day I use Roche-LaPosay Anthelios SX. I love how well it moisturizes and the finish of the lotion, but I’m concerned that SPF 15 isn’t enough.

  • @AwwRITE

    Yes!! That would be helpful!

  • AwwRITE!

    If anyone buys and uses the PCA sunscreen, pls post your first-hand account (especially if you have also used Elta MD UV Clear)!

  • @Sarah

    I agree that a lot of Paula’s products don’t have very pleasant textures; her serums are all greasy, slippery, and not very nice at all; at least not initially. However, the Pure Radiance Treatment contains water as the first ingredient. Her other serums are all nonaqueous. So the texture is actually a very light lotion, despite the cyclopentasiloxane and dimenthicone contents. I own the product so this isn’t a theoretical assessment. I’d definitely recommend getting a sample at least to see if you like the texture, because the ingredients are undeniably good.

    As for the liquid AHA product, the Paula’s CHoice 10% one has a liquid texture. However, it is quite potent so I’m not sure if you’d like it everyday; I probably wouldn’t recommend doing that. And it’s kind of pricey to use on a daily basis: $28.95 for 2 oz. But I think the product is fantastic. Perhaps pick up a sample of this too? I don’t know of any other liquid AHA product on the market that’s quite like this one. Most of the others contain alcohol, which isn’t so bad, but it can dry the skin out. And since you believe that BHAs dry you out, toners with high amounts of alcohol (ethanol) or a similar drying agent such as methanol or acetone, are definitely not for you.

    So yeah, I’d say pick up some samples of the two PC products if you can. And I’m glad that you decided to go with the PCA skin SPF 45! Let us know how you like it!

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Sarah

    Hello John, thank you so much for addressing my concern for hyperpigmentation. Paula’s Choice Pure Radiance Treatment’s ingredients looks fantastic! However, I am partial to it being a silicone based treatment. While this is probably done to make the product more cosmetically elegant, I personally dislike this type of texture. In fact, I find a lot of Paula’s Choice products have a lot of slip agents in them. I find it especially difficult to layer products such as a moisturizer on top, if I have a silicone/thickener based product underneath. Am I too picky?

    I’m glad you mentioned throwing in a glyolic acid product. I was seriously consider the Resist Daily Smoothing Treatment with 5% Alpha Hydroxy Acid previously. However, I steered away from it after learning that it is in a gel/lotion texture. I would much prefer to find a daily AHA exfoliant in a liquid/toner form, so that I can use it every night after cleansing. Do you have suggestions for one in a similar price point? Paula has one, the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, however, I do not have oily skin, so I find BHAs are too drying for me.

    I’m off to ordering the PCA Skin SPF45 the next time DermStore has a 20% off code. Thanks again for the awesome recommendation!

  • @fairytalesandcoffee

    You’re super welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

  • @Sarah

    Thank you for your compliment! I’m so glad that everyone has been so warm and receptive. 🙂

    Now, I personally would prefer the SPF 45 just because I have really oily skin. However, that’s not to say that the SPF 30 product isn’t great. I stand by that recommendation for someone with a drier skin type. And don’t worry about the alcohol content. It’s not very high, and it’ll just help solubilize and fluidize the sunscreen, resulting in a lighter and more pleasant texture and finish.

    As for the skin lightening ingredients of the SPF 30 product, while they may seem intriguing, they’re not present in very high amounts, so I doubt they’ll make any noticeable difference. I’d recommend something like the Paula’s Choice Pure Radiance Treatment if you’d really like to treat hyperpigmentation. It contains high amounts of n-acetyl glucosamine and niacinamide, along with licorice, mulberry, and a vitamin C ester. Throw in a glycolic acid and/or hydroquinone product and you’re all set. These ingredients address hyperpigmentation via different pathways: inhibition of the tyrosinase enzyme, inhibition of melanosome transfer, and increasing cellular tunrover. Talk about a 1-2-3 punch to hyperpigmentation. Those, combined with an excellent sunscreen will markedly and dramatically improve your skin! As you can tell, as with most things, it’s best to tackle a problem with combination therapy rather than monotherapy!

    So to sum everything up, I’d personally use the SPF 45, and layer a vitamin C based product underneath. I’d save the skin lightening product for evening. But as I recommended in my sunscreen series, the SPF 30 is excellent as well and is appropriate for drier skin types.

    Good luck with everything!

  • fairytalesandcoffee

    whoah – who knew – I also used to briefly use Nia 24 because of the Niacinamide and L-ascorbic acid together before sunscreen application and was going to start back up again. Thank you so much for being so helpful! I need to be more diligent about reading your blog. While I have no complaints about wrinkles uneven skintone is a problem for me. Hopefully, I haven’t done too much future unsurfanced damage to my skin.

  • Sarah

    Excellent investigative work, John! Thanks so much for another great post! I think another reason why your writing generate such positive feedback is because you are always so responsive to us readers, and your answers are always thorough and helpful. I cannot wait for your next post.

    I am in the market for a new sunscreen. Although I enjoy the strictly inorganic sunscreen (Pratima Neem Rose Face Sunscreen with 18.6% zine oxide), I want to try something else that has an added organic ingredient to in, to further optimize protection.

    Personally, I haven’t try the UV Clear, so I don’t necessary need a product that is similar to it. Previously, you recommended another PCA sunscreen, the “PCA Perfecting Protection SPF 30”. I am extremely intrigued by the melanin inhibitors that it has, like the kojic acid, bearberry extract, licorice root extract…etc, especially since hyper-pigmentation is one of my biggest concerns. However, I am concern about the amount of alcohol it contains.

    If you have to choose between the two, would you choose the “PCA Perfecting Protection SPF30”, or the “PCA Skin Weightless Protection SPF45”??

    Here is the ingredient list for the “PCA Perfecting Protection SPF30:
    Water, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Glycerin, Cyclopentasiloxane, Isononyl Isononanoate, Cetearyl Alcohol, SD Alcohol 40-B, Polyacrylate-13, Dimethicone, Tocopheryl Acetate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Lactic Acid, Kojic Acid, Butylene Glycol, Morus Alba Root Extract, Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi Leaf Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Caffeine, Silybum Marianum Extract, Arginine, Microcrystalline Cellulose, C20-22 Alkyl Phosphate, C20-22 Alcohols, Polyisobutene, Cetearyl Glucoside, Caprylyl Glycol, Cellulose Gum, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Sodium PCA, Sodium Hyaluronate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol.

    Many many thanks again for your help!

  • @Tiffany Martin

    Thank you super much! And you’re welcome.

  • @Bung

    Of course you can. It’s a sunscreen! But if you’re not using ANY antioxidant product before the EltaMD, I’d rather you still use the L-ascorbic acid product. The pros outweigh the cons.

    I still stand by the fact that L-ascorbic acid and niacinamide should be used separately to achieve maximum efficacy. However, I’d rather you use the two together, then to completely take one out of the equation. Does that make sense?

  • Great comparison, John, I love seeing product twins and it looks like it took a lot of research. Much appreciated.

  • Bung

    If i don’t use L-Ascobic product in the morning then i can still use Elta sunscreen, right?

  • @josephine

    Thanks for reading through all the comments! There are like 40 I think. I’m glad that most if not all of your questions have been answered.

    Please let me know if you have any more. 🙂

  • @Erika

    You’re very welcome. I hope you’ll try the PCA skin since you were one of the people that fell in love with the UV Clear SPF 46. 🙂

    And I’m not going to be able to practice dermatology until like… ten years. Lol! But who knows? I hope I’ll still be writing. And San Fran sounds pretty good, though the living costs are ridiculously expensive. But then again, that’s true for most major cities. I mean, New York is even more insane. Haha.

  • @Peach

    Thanks! You’re too kind.

  • josephine

    I just read your other comments so no need to answer my last post (4:44pm). I got it…and thanks a billion times!

    A post on all the awesome things to use in the morning after l-asorbic acid would be cool.. 🙂

    Ok, now I’lll stop bugging you and go off to research/find a new a.m. moisturizer to replace the Nia 24 / Elta / Olay. Sigh. RevaleSkin day cream perhaps.

  • josephine

    awesome! thanks, john! i haven’t read through everything here but it’s not ok to use nia 24 sunscreen or any nia 24 product after l-asorbic acid either right? i’ve been doing l-asorbic + coffeeberry + some type of niacin derivative (nia 2, elta md, olay) pretty much every single morning for the past 3 years. this is freaking me out!

  • Erika

    thank you!!!!

    when you become a dermatologist, can you move to san francisco so i can be one of your patients?!

  • Peach

    Um John…you’re pretty amazing 🙂

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