We all love the sun, that's a given. It just makes days more enjoyable. But, like most things, too much sun can be a bad thing—at least for our skin. Going without sun protection increases melanoma risk, regardless of age or skin color. So, slather up to keep skin protected. Here's what you need to know before you buy sunscreen for your family.
1. SPF matters.
“SPF (Sun Protective Factor) refers to the ability of a sunscreen to prevent UVB rays from reaching and damaging the skin," says Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills. “The number is a ratio of how long it can take for an individual's skin to turn pink with or without sunscreen." For example, an SPF 15 lets 1/15 of UVB rays reach the skin, and an SPF 30 only lets 1/30 in. Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to 30 and labeled as having “UVA protection" or “broad-spectrum protection."
2. All sunscreen ingredients are not created equal.
Sydney Ziverts, health and nutrition investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, recommends sunscreens that include:
- Zinc oxide
- Avobenzone (Parsol 1789)
- Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX)
Avoid sunscreens that contain:
- Vitamin A
- Retinol (retinyl palmitate)
If you want a sunscreen insurance policy, “Using a sunscreen together with an antioxidant serum may increase the efficacy of your sunscreen by an additional SPF 8. Layer the serum under your sunscreen or wear a combination product," says Shainhouse.
3. You can afford sunscreen.
“The top-rated sunscreens in the U.S. are inexpensive and widely available, and were demonstrated to have the sunscreen ability and SFP level they claimed on the bottle," says Shainhouse. Shainhouse specifically referenced top-rated sunscreens such as La Roche Posay Anthelios AOX 50, Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50, and Pure Sun Defense SPF 50.
Whatever brand you choose, stock up. UVA protection begins to break down after a few hours. And even if you're not active in the sun, even if you're sitting under a shady umbrella, you are always perspiring, which washes the sunscreen from your skin. “One 8 oz. bottle should only last for the weekend," says Neal Schultz, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
4. Choose sunscreen strategically if you will be in the water.
The FDA defines water-resistant sunscreen (not waterproof – a misnomer) as sunscreen with an SPF that will be effective for 40 minutes in the water. “Very water-resistant" means the SPF is effective for up to 80 minutes of swimming. “If you purchase a water- or sweat-resistant sunscreen, be sure to reapply frequently," says Ziverts.
5. Dark skin color and makeup do not prevent you from getting a sunburn.
“Darker skins have a large amount of melanin, which does provide some natural SPF," says Mindy Green, owner of MG Beauty, a mobile beauty business in the Washington D.C. metro area. But no skin provides enough sun protection naturally.
Makeup isn't a barrier from the sun's rays either. If your sunscreen is too greasy for your face, “look for products that are non-comedogenic and have an SPF," says Green. This will help set the makeup and offer sun protection. Sunscreen gels are useful for oily, acne-prone, or combination (but not dry) skin. “They are lightweight, finish invisibly so you can't feel them, and won't clog pores or cause breakouts," says Schulz.
6. You don't have to buy different sunscreens for every member of your family.
“Use the same sunscreen for infants, toddlers, and children as you use on yourself," says Schultz. “All sunscreens are regulated by the FDA and whatever SPF value an adult gets, the child will get the same value. The same goes for the value in children's sunscreens for adults." If you want to go all-natural, organic sunscreens must still have an FDA-approved sunscreen in an approved concentration for them to be effective.
7. Sunscreen application makes all the difference.
Sunscreen sprays are convenient, easy to use, and have an almost invisible finish. But, “because you can't see or feel them, you don't know whether you've missed parts of your skin," says Schulz, who sees some of the worst sunburns in people who use sprays. He recommends sunscreen lotion for the body and cream sunscreen for the face, which is richer and more emollient than lotions.
Ultimately, how much sunscreen you use, the technique with which you apply it, and how often you reapply matter more than brand and price any day.