With vaccination rates climbing, and new CDC guidance for outdoor and indoor gatherings, more and more people are looking forward to spending time outdoors this coming summer. With temperatures across the country rising steadily, so too is the risk of soaking up a little too much summer sun.
Sunburns can be extremely harmful to your skin and can lead to serious damage and skin cancer later in life. It’s important to protect your skin every time you go outside, even for short durations. However, choosing the right sun sunscreen isn’t always easy.
We’ve all been there. Standing in the skincare aisle, staring at what seems like an endless variety of sunscreens, unsure of which one to pick. Spray or lotion? SPF 50 or 75? What does SPF even mean anyways? The choices can seem endless when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun. While not all sunscreens are created equal, the same can be said for our skin. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered.
Below are five basic guidelines to keep in mind when choosing a sunscreen.
1: Know Your Skin Type for Best Sun Protection
Understanding your skin type is perhaps the most important part of choosing the right sunscreen. In today’s sunscreen market, many are branded to help protect different skin types, including those with dry, oily, or sensitive skin. While a sunscreen that is meant to protect dry skin can still work for someone with sensitive skin, understanding these differences can help narrow down a sunscreen that is right for you.
For people with dry skin, reach for a sunscreen with a ‘built-in’ moisturizer. Many sunscreens available today include hydrating ingredients such as glycerin and aloe, which can help prevent the skin from drying out in the sun. If you have dry skin you should also avoid sunscreens that contain alcohol, as it can dry out your skin quickly.
For those with oily skin, lightweight lotions or gel sunscreens are the bee’s knees. The key to a good sunscreen for oily skin is to find one that won’t add more oil to your skin. If you have oily skin, try to find a sunscreen that is branded as ‘oil-free’, and without chemicals such as homosalate, which in high quantities can be thick and oily. Oily skin can also benefit from application methods such as gels and powders, as opposed to lotions and sprays.
If you have sensitive skin, you are no stranger to the struggle of finding a good skincare product. Choosing a sunscreen that won’t aggravate your skin can be difficult, but there are a few things you can look for to help make the decision easier. The best sunscreens for sensitive skin are typically those that are mineral or physical-based. These types of sunscreens contain ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which sit on top of the skin, creating a protective barrier against the sun’s harmful rays.
While skin cancer is less common among Black and Latinx populations in the United States, people of color and those with darker skin tones should still take precautions when soaking up the sun. If you have a darker complexion, sunscreen can help protect your skin from what is known as hyperpigmentation, a common, typically harmless condition that causes patches of skin to become darker in color than the normal surrounding skin. Try reaching for sunscreens that include micronized zinc and titanium dioxide, or the addition of masking pigments.
2: Some Sunscreens Contain Harmful Ingredients
Not all sunscreen products are created equal. Many contain ingredients that can actually be harmful to your skin and can even cause allergic reactions. When shopping for sunscreen, take a moment to read through the ingredients to make sure you’re not exposing your skin to any damaging chemicals.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently called for more research on the safety and effectiveness of 12 known chemicals found in most commercial sunscreens. Among those, are chemicals such as oxybenzone and avobenzone, substances that are known to protect the skin against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, but are also believed to be harmful to the skin.
Oxybenzone is thought to be a chemical that causes allergic reactions in some people and has also been linked to hormone disruption, although such claims are yet to be scientifically proven. Other chemicals to be wary of include, methylisothiazolinone, octinoxate, homosalate, which are all thought to cause some level of hormone disruption, and are toxic to coral reefs.
If you have a skin condition such as rosacea or acne, certain active ingredients can be especially harmful. Interestingly enough, alcohol can be both helpful or harmful, depending on your skin condition. For those with acne, gel formulas that contain alcohol can actually help reduce the likelihood of aggravating the skin. However, if you have rosacea, alcohol can irritate or even worsen rosacea symptoms due to its ability to dry out the skin.
3: Always Aim for SPF 30 or Above for Best Sun Protection
Something we’ve all wondered at one point or another is what level of SPF we need, and what it even means in the first place. SPF, or sun protection factor, refers to how long the sun’s UV rays would take to redden your skin versus the amount of time without any sunscreen.
This would mean that when a sunscreen labeled SPF 30 is applied to the skin, it would take 30 times longer to burn than normal. So why not reach for the highest SPF rating? Or, conversely, why bother using a high SPF-rated sunscreen at all?
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), as well as the Skin Cancer Foundation, recommended a minimum SPF rating of 30, which protects your skin from 97% of the sun’s UV and UVB rays. So why not reach for SPF 50? Why not 75 or 100? The answer is quite simple.
While SPF 100 blocks more of the sun’s harmful rays than lower-rated sunscreens, the difference between them is quite minor. Remember, SPF 30 blocks nearly 97% of both UV and UVB rays, which means the difference between 30 and 100 is a matter of just 1-2% (since no product can be 100% effective).
This is not to say that higher SPF ratings are not effective. If you have fair skin, or if you burn easily, reaching for a higher SPF can be beneficial, but it’s important to note that you shouldn’t just pick the highest-rated sunscreen and call it a day.
4: Spray vs Lotion Sunscreen, Which is Better?
The age-old debate: spray or lotion sunscreen? In recent years, spray sunscreens have become more popular, as they are often advertised as ‘mess-free’ or ‘easy-to-apply’, and while these are true, there are benefits, and negatives, of using spray sunscreens.
Of the many reasons you may opt for a spray, sunscreen is the ease of application. This is made possible by the propellant, known as aerosol, which is used in most commercial spray sunscreens. However, there has been a growing concern over the health effects these types of sunscreens can have on your body.
Many people worry that the chances of inhaling some of the ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, or its propellant could be potentially dangerous. The FDA has yet to specifically determine the health risks of inhaling sunscreen sprays but has since advised not to use them near your face.
Along with some of the potentially harmful chemicals, as well as some of the above-mentioned reasons for either choosing or opting out of spray sunscreens, another factor to keep in mind when choosing sunscreens is how they are applied.
A recent study on spray vs lotion sunscreens found that most people, mainly men, do not use the proper amount of sunscreen when spending time outdoors. Most dermatologists and doctors recommend that you use about two to three tablespoons of sunscreen to cover your entire body.
Spray sunscreens, while equally effective as lotions, can often give off the impression that you’ve covered yourself completely when you haven’t. To achieve an equal level of sun protection as gels or lotions, you need to spray each part of your body for at least six seconds.
When choosing a sunscreen, it’s important to remember that while sprays can be equally effective, and in some cases beneficial for your skin, you need to be aware of how to properly apply them.
5: Use a Sunscreen that You Enjoy
This one’s easy. Find a sunscreen that you like, and stick to it. The best sunscreen you could possibly use is the one that you actually put on your skin. You should always put thought and consideration into choosing a sunscreen, as it will likely increase your chances for continued use.
Sunscreens are an essential part of a safe, enjoyable summer. They should check all of the boxes for not only your sun protection needs but your skincare needs. Reach for a sunscreen that is right for your skin type, is free of harmful chemicals, gives you ample protection from the sun’s harmful rays, and is ultimately enjoyable to wear.
What is your favorite sunscreen to protect your skin from sunburn?
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