What to look for in your sunscreen?
When it comes to sunscreen, there’s no shortage of options to choose from. That’s why it can be hard to understand the different types and which are the most effective. Read more to learn about the different types of sunscreen and how to best protect your skin from sun damage.
The first thing to look for in your sunscreen is if it protects you against UVA and UVB rays.
SPF — or sun protection factor — is a measurement that represents how well a sunscreen protects your skin against UVB rays. The minimum recommended SPF is at least 30, while SPF of larger than 50 only marginally offers greater protection.
There are some sunscreens that you can wear in the water without the risk of them being washed off. If a sunscreen says “SPF,” that means it can stay on for a maximum of 40 minutes. If it says it's “very water-resistant,” that means it’ll stay on for up to 2 hours.
Organic vs. inorganic
Sunscreens either reflect or absorb UV rays. The chemicals that cause this reaction are called filters, and there are two different types:
- Organic. These filters absorb UV rays into your skin and turn them into warmth, and they include cinnamates, salicylates, and benzophenones. These sunscreens are also called chemical sunscreens.
- Inorganic. Sometimes called physical sunscreens, these filters cause UV rays to be reflected and scatter from the skin. These ingredients include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Physical sunscreens are usually more compatible with the skin.
You may find some sunscreens that also contain these additives:
- Repellant. Some sunscreens contain insect repellent. Avoid these products — instead, use sunscreen and insect repellent separately.
- Cosmetic products. Some sunscreens also combine ingredients used in personal hygiene or makeup products. Often, these products don’t contain enough sunscreen to fully protect your skin. If you do use them, reapply often or apply an added layer of sunscreen.
Different applications of sunscreens
Sunscreens can be applied in many different ways like:
- Creams — which are best for people with dry skin or wishing to use a more gentle sunscreen on their face
- Lotions — which can be applied over large portions of your skin and have a more gentle consistency than other sunscreens
- Gels — which work effectively on areas with a lot of hair, like the scalp, chest, or back
- Sticks — which work best around the eyes
- Spray — which can be used for easy application and is excellent for children as it creates an even coat over your body
What’s the best sunscreen?
The best sunscreen is a broad-spectrum sunscreen that you use continuously. Instead of focusing on the specific sunscreen to use, applying it in the safest way and incorporate healthy lifestyle habits that protect you from the sun is better. As a best practice, make sure your sunscreen is broad-spectrum and over SPF 30.
You should also be sure to:
- Use sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you need sun protection
- Cover every part of your body that’ll be exposed to the sun, even places like the tops of your ears, feet, hands, and lips
- Put sunscreen on even when you think you don’t need it
- Be mindful of whether or not your sunscreen has expired
- Don’t put sunscreen on children under 6 months of age
While sunscreen effectively protects skin against UVA and UVB rays, you should also adopt lifestyle choices that help protect your skin. Protective measures include:
- Not going out in the sun during the part of the day that has the most intense sunlight
- Wearing clothing that covers and protects your body from the sun rays
- Getting proper vitamin D through supplements rather than sun tanning
- Avoiding tanning beds
- Going to the doctor if your skin is itchy or bleeding or has changed a lot.
What to avoid in a sunscreen?
When it comes to sunscreens, avoid the following ingredients:
- Oxybenzone or Octinoxate. Both ingredients negatively interact with your hormones. They are also harmful to the environment as they damage coral reefs.
- Vitamin A. Also known as retinyl palmitate or retinol, vitamin A can lead to tumors or lesions.
- Parabens. These negatively affect your hormones and possibly damage your DNA as they react with UVB rays.
American Academy of Dermatology Association: “Sunscreen FAQS.”
Mayo Clinic: Best sunscreen: “Understand sunscreen options.”
SF Environment: “How can I choose the safest and most effective sunscreen?”
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