How to: Choose the Best Sunscreen this Summer
Studies show that those who have had five or more sunburns in their lifetime double their risk for melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. But with an entire aisle of gels, creams and blocks to choose from, how do you pick out the most protective and best sunscreen? Here are our tips for what to look for:
Chemical sunscreens vs. physical sunscreens
There are two types of sunscreens: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens sound scary but they’re probably the ones you already use because they become invisible after application. They contain up to a dozen ingredients that get absorbed and reduce ultraviolet radiation penetration to the skin.
Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which physically block UVA and UVB rays from ever reaching your skin. These sunscreens are visible after they’re applied (picture a lifeguard with a white nose).
So which one should you use? Individuals with sensitive skin (especially babies) should use physical sunscreen because the chemical filters in chemical sunscreen can be irritating. Otherwise, go with whichever one you prefer. They both have their pros: Chemical sunscreens blend into the skin better but physical ones tend to have a longer shelf life and work immediately, unlike chemical sunscreens which need to be absorbed before they are effective.
No sunscreen blocks 100 percent of rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation says SPF15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays, SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF50 keeps out 98 percent. If you’re going to be outside a lot, the American Academy of Dermatologists strongly recommends using an SPF30 or higher (even if your moisturizer or makeup has SPF in it). Additionally, it’s important to know that you must reapply at least every two hours, regardless of the SPF.
This label has to be FDA-approved and means a sunscreen protects against UVB as well as UVA rays. Sunscreens without the “broad spectrum” label only protect against UVA. It’s important to protect against UVA and UVB rays because both play a role in premature aging, eye damage and skin cancers. Learn more about UVA and UVB.
This label does not mean that the sunscreen will be water resistant all day long. To find out how long it lasts, check the “fact box” on the side or back of the package. It will note that the sunscreen works for 40 or 80 minutes after a person has been in a pool or sweating. And note that activities like swimming or exercising causes the sunscreen to wear off even faster.
In addition to protecting yourself with a good sunscreen, it’s important to practice sun-smart behavior like wearing hats, avoiding midday sun (this is when the sun is the strongest), and staying in the shade.
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Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik