When it comes to choosing sunscreen, most of us don't give much thought on what kind we buy, as long as it seems to have enough SPF. However, all sunscreens are definitely not equal, and there a number of things to look out for when choosing the right sunscreen. Although using any sunscreen is better than using none, certain kinds work to protect your skin better from UV rays, and investing in a good kind of cream can help prevent sun damage and skin cancer.
"We all know that the sunscreen aisle can be overwhelming," says dermatologist Dr. Seth Forman from the Forman Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute over email. "With so many products containing the labels SPF, UVA and UVB protection, along with the tag lines waterproof and water resistant, it only adds to the confusion, making the process of choosing the right sunscreen all the more daunting."
Luckily, you don't have to try to decipher these sunscreen labels on your own. I consulted with a few expert dermatologists to help you pick the sunscreen that will work best to shield your skin from harmful rays. In order to get the best protection, you should consider these six tips to choose the best type of sunscreen.
1. Look For Broad Spectrum
SPF is important, but you also want to make sure your sunscreen says "Broad Spectrum" so it can protect against both UVA and UVB rays. "SPF only describes protection from UVB rays, the sunburn rays that also damage your skin's DNA," says dermatologist Heather D. Rogers, MD over email. "UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply causing wrinkles and brown spots. Instead of looking for a product with the highest SPF, look for a product with at least an SPF of 30 that is also labeled with UVA and UVB protection or broad spectrum."
2. Look For Zinc Oxide
"The vast majority of sunscreens sold in the US are chemical based, meaning the sun protection is provided by chemicals your skin absorbs versus mineral sun protection, which sits on the top of your skin and are not absorbed," Rogers. "The best, broadest sun protection comes from zinc oxide. Unlike the chemical sunscreen ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone, it is not absorbed into your body."
3. Use Titanium Or Zinc For Sensitive Skin
In addition to looking for zinc oxide for coverage, use zinc or titanium-oxide-based sunscreens if you have sensitive skin. "Zinc and titanium are known as 'physical blockers' and much less allergenic compared to all other sunscreen active ingredients which are known as 'chemical blockers,' says dermatologist Soheil Simzar of AvaMD over email.
4. Choose SPF 30 Or Above
"An SPF of 30 will block 97 percent of the sun's harmful rays," says Forman. "Most people don't apply like they should, so using a sunscreen with a higher SPF acts like a safety net to give the highest amount of protection."
5. Choose Water Resistant
"The 'water resistant' types of sunscreen are also good for hot days or while playing sports," says Forman. "Keep in mind these types of sunscreens are stickier and need to be reapplied every two hours." No sunscreen is actually waterproof or sweat-proof, so steer clear of sunscreens that make this claim.
6. Stick To Creams Over Sprays
It's tempting to want to use a spray sunscreen since it saves you time, but if you do, you may not be getting adequate protection. "It’s challenging to determine if spray sunscreens adequately cover all of the sun-exposed skin, especially when it's windy," says Forman. "This means you could possibly miss some spots." Additionally, According to Consumer Reports, the FDA is still investigating the risks of chemicals being inhaled during the application process.
"It's also so important to remember sunscreen is just one part of sun production," says Rogers. "Covering up is an essential part of effectively protecting your skin."