How to Pick the Right Sunscreen

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How to Pick the Right Sunscreen

Posted by Andie on May 21, 2017

Like many of you, I was one of those teenagers that worshipped the sun.  I hardly ever burned and so I didn't see the point in wearing sunscreen.  Once I hit 25 I realized I didn't want to turn into a piece of leather when I got old, and so I drastically changed my sun habits.  I might take my protection to extremes now, but there is no such thing as being too careful in my book.  

Am I the only person that has felt confused while trying to pick out a bottle of sunscreen?  It's overwhelming!  As Americans we love pretty packaging, but after talking with my dermotologist and doing extensive research I've learned that most of the sunscreens out there (especially sold at the supermarket) aren't doing nearly what they claim to.  In fact, some of them are straight up bad for your health.  

The best way to really find the right sunscreen is to start asking the right questions.  Take a moment to go over these common sunscreen questions to make sure you've got the facts straight....

 What does it mean when a sunscreen label boasts Broad Spectrum Protection? Protects from both UVA and UVB light rays.  UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, and UVB rays contribute to sunburn. (* Keep reading below.*) While many bottles claim to provide broad spectrum protection, it's actually very false.) 

What does SPF (Sun Protection Factor) actually mean? Measures protection from UVB rays. To calculate, you times the SPF number by 10, and with sunscreen applied, that is the amount of time you can be in the sun with burning.  Unfortunately, high SPF's can create a very false sense of security.  I have totally had the mindset, "the higher the spf, the better"--- and that just isn't the case.  Here is a breakdown of the percentages of UVB rays that are blocked by different SPF levels.

SPF 15- blocks 94% of UVB rays
SPF 30- blocks 97% of UVB rays
SPF 45- blocks 98% of UVB rays

As you can see, once you hit SPF 30 it really doesn't make much of a difference to go any higher.  Also, the higher the SPF, the higher chemical concentrations contained (without offering any real additional sun protection).  My doctor told me to stick with SPF 30 and to make sure that I'm diligent about reapplying.  Interestingly enough, the EWG advises to avoid sunscreens with a higher SPF than 50 altogether! 

If SPF targets UVB rays, how do I target UVA rays?
Looking at SPF can be helpful, but also misleading as it doesn't measure the amount of protection from UVA rays.  Many American sunscreens claim to be "broad spectrum" on their label, but their UVA protections are in reality very inadequate.  UVA protection in American Sunscreens maxes out at about 15 to 20 SPF.  Yikes!  In order to achieve the best UVA protection possible, look for sunscreens that have mineral ingredients. 

What kind of minerals should I be looking for in my sunscreen?
ZINC OXIDE!  Most dermatologists will agree that the only real way to prevent skin damage, sun aging, and adequate UVA protection is by using zinc oxide sunscreens.  It offers better protection from UVA rays than titanium oxide or any other sunscreen chemical approved in the U.S. Zinc starts working right when you put it on becuase it sits on top of the skin and literally acts as a physical barrier.  If you are thinking of the white paste lifegaurds wore 30 years ago--- don't fret.  Zinc sunscreens have improved a lot over the years and they run on like any other sunscreen.  A few other minerals that are good (although zinc oxide is the very best) in protecting against UVA rays are: titanium dioxide and avobenzone.  As you can see, these three ingredients not only target UVA rays, but they are also rated the least toxic of ingredients in sunscreens.  Win, Win!


How much sunscreen do I need to apply? 

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people apply "1 ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass" of sunscreen each time they apply it.  Most people only apply 25-50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen, which in turn lowers the amount of SPF your body is actually getting.  Ex) Ever put on SPF 50 sunscreen and still got burned?  If you don't put an adequate amount of sunscreen on, even an SPF 50 sunscreen can end up acting more like an SPF 7!  I had no idea!!

How often do I need to reapply?

Lots of people think they just need to apply it once when they first go out, and that it will protect them all day.  This could not be further from the truth. REAPPLYING IS KEY!!  Apply 20-30 minutes before being exposed to the sun, and reapply at LEAST every 2 hours-- even less if you are swimming or sweating.  

When do I need to put sunscreen on my face?
Every single day.  Whether you are going to the beach or just running errands, wearing a good sunscreen on your face daily is a must.  I know a lot of women are leery about adding another moisturizer to their makeup lineup, but there are lots of awesome facial sunscreens that come as tinted moisturizers.  I put mine on first thing in the morning, before any other makeup.  I couldn't live without it!  

Should I use spray sunscreens?

In theory they sound like a good idea because they are convenient and quick...... but it's best to only be used in a pinch. Two reasons to stay away: it's hard to know if you've covered all areas of your body, especially if you are outdoors when you apply it.  Wind and weather can affect how much of it actually makes it onto your skin.  Also, spray sunscreen is pretty controversial because of accidental inhalation, especially in children.  If you are going to use it, make sure you apply inside, cover your child's face while spraying, and use a lotion sunscreen on their face. 

Go, and choose wisely.

Hopefully this information will help you make the most informed decisions when purchasing sunscreen for your family this summer!  You should definitely take the time to do your own research and check the ingredients on the bottle before you buy, but the EWG has an incredible Guide to Sunscreens where you can look up specific sunscreens to see how they measure up in safety, UVA/UVB balance, etc.  Check it out!  It's gold.  

Also, just to make it easy on you, here are the BEST BEACH AND SPORT SUNSCREENS and the BEST KID SUNSCREENS ranked by the EWG. I bought Blue Lizard Sensitive and Blue Lizard Sport on Amazon and so far have been very happy with it.  


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