We all know how important it is to wear sunscreen. From preventing skin cancer and aging to just saving yourself a sunburn, slathering on sunscreen has become one of the biggest summertime PSAs for our culture obsessed with face and skin care. Unfortunately, a lot of info out there can be confusing, and as someone who burns easily, I know it can sometimes be hard to pick the right sunscreen for your needs. Here are a few things to keep in mind, the next time you’re staring down a wall of different sunscreens at your supermarket:
1. UVA and UVB
There are two kinds of radiation in sunlight that harm the skin. UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburns, and are what virtually all sun blocks block. UVA rays, though, are the ones that cause more permanent damage to the skin, like aging and wrinkles. Both types can be cancer-causing, and to keep your skin healthy, it’s important to have a sunscreen that blocks both, like this Neutrogena Spectrum+. If a sunscreen blocks both types, it should say so on the label, and is usually called “Full spectrum” or “broad spectrum,” but you should check for these ingredients: Avobenzone, Cinoxate, Ecamsule, Menthyl anthranilate, Octyl methoxycinnamate, Octyl salicylate, Oxybenzone, Sulisobenzone, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
This is probably the most confusing aspect of picking the right screen. SPF stands for sun protection factor, and in theory, the higher the number, the more protection you get. In a lab environment, that’s true – but outdoors, people sweat, swim, towel off, and underapply. What that means is that anything higher than 50 SPF ends up working about the same. You want to make sure you have at least 30 SPF, but don’t worry about anything over 50. If it comes down to a more expensive, higher SPF or a less expensive, lower SPF brand like this No-Ad sun block, I’d opt for the cheaper one and use more of it more often, which is the best way to increase the effectiveness of your sunscreen.
Sun block comes in tons of forms – from creams and gels to sprays, sticks, or even powders, but they’re all roughly equivalently effective. The most important thing here, then, is to get a kind you like – something you’re willing to use, and use often! Since one of the biggest sins of sunscreen is not using enough of it, getting a brand you can apply easily is important. This Mission Skincare has a continuous spray nozzle, so you just point and spray to apply. This one is fast-drying and water and sweat proof, so it’s great for sports – though even so you want to reapply it at least every 2 hours. It can also help to rub spray sunscreen it in once it’s applied, and for your face you definitely want to spray in your hands first to prevent eye irritation. With most spray sun blocks, though, you want to be careful using them around plastics or fabrics, as they can stain (though this one supposedly doesn’t).
When it comes to waterproof sun screen, a good rule of thumb is: always look for it, but never believe it. People tend to take a “Waterproof” label to mean that their sunscreen can stand up to just about anything. The truth is, even the best, most actually-waterproof sunscreens DO wear off eventually. So, especially if you’re swimming, sweating, or otherwise potentially disturbing your sunscreen, even if it’s a high quality waterproof sport type like this Banana Boat Sport, make sure to reapply at least once every two hours. Especially if you’re going camping, fishing, boating, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors, you want to make sure you get something that will stand up to your sweat – and think about combining it with bug spray instead of getting a 2-in-1, so you can reapply your sun block without ODing on the bug spray chemicals.
5. Hate The Grease?
One of my biggest gripes with sun screen is that it’s basically exactly everything you DON’T want to put on your skin – it’s greasy, smelly, and can do terrible things to your pores. For your face at least – and, if you have easily irritated skin, your whole body – it might be worth the splurge to get a slightly more expensive sun block like this Neutrogena Ultra Sheer that won’t wreak havoc on your skin. This particular brand is lightweight and dries non-greasy, protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and is fairly waterproof. If you’re looking for something specifically for your face, though, moisturizers with at SPF30 or higher (no lower than SPF 15, and I mean it!) and chap stick or lip balm with SPF 4-20 can help protect you from the damaging rays of the sun on a day to day basis, without the greasy sunscreen smell of a regular sun block.
6. Sensitive Skin And Small Children
Some people, adults and children, though especially sensitive-skinned babies, can have bad reactions to some ingredients in some sunscreens. While it can be hard to know until you’ve tried them, some sun screens, like this Australian Blue Lizard brand, are specifically designed for those with sensitive skin. Oxybenzone is a common irritating ingredient, so if you’re worried for your skin, keep an eye out for that one. But otherwise, most sensitive brands eliminate both skin-irritating chemicals as well as fragrances for people with multiple or different sensitivities.
7. Au Naturale
Finally, if you’re a little wary about putting all these unpronounceable chemicals on your skin to help fight cancer, there are all-natural sunscreens, like those from the Badger brand. These tend to be a little harder to rub in, take a little longer to absorb, and might leave you a little whiter, but they’re absolutely as effective as your standard store brand, without any of the chemicals. Plus, because they’re chemical-free, they tend to be less likely to irritate skin, and are safe for those with sensitive skin, and even babies. This one has a nice herbal scent, but you can also buy it unscented.
8. Short Version!
- Buy Broad Spectrum.
- Never less than 30 SPF.
- Put on more than you think you need.
- Reapply every 2 hours, no matter what!
- Never trust the sun – stay in the shade and cover up whenever you can!
- Even if it’s cloudy, stay protected.
Remember, taking care of your skin will save you a lot of grief, both in the short and long term. While it’s a little bit of a hassle to keep yourself slathered, it’s a lot less of a hassle than spending a week with peeling skin and blisters, and not even close to the misery of skin cancer. So practice safe sun! If you have any more questions about how to find the right sunscreen, let me know in the comments!