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How To Choose the Right Sunscreen

by kelly / August, 12 2020 01:30

Picture of three different sunscreen bottles on a towel

Is there a right type of sunscreen? The answer is the right one is the one you will use again and again, every day. There are some basics that your sunscreen should have and we’ll explain those below. But instead of telling you what the right one is – we’ll lay out the options that exist on the market today so you can make the best choice for yourself. Of course we’d always love for you to choose our sunscreen Laughing.

Basics of Your Sunscreen

Your sunscreen should provide a certain broad spectrum SPF level of protection. Those words “SPF” and “broad spectrum” should appear on the label of your sunscreen.

Sunscreens (and all SPF products) sold in the US are regulated by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are considered over-the-counter drugs by the FDA. In order to claim or be able to label your product a certain SPF level or as broad spectrum the sunscreen has to go through FDA regulated testing.

In terms of SPF level, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends at least an SPF 15 or higher and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests at least an SPF 30. SPF level lets you know how much UVB protection you are getting. Both recommend sunscreens also provide broad spectrum protection which will mean that your sunscreen protects against UVA rays too.

If you’re planning on swimming or heavily sweating make sure your sunscreen is water resistant as well – a sunscreen can provide 40 or 80 minutes of water resistance (to make a water resistant level claim the sunscreen also has to go through FDA water resistant testing).

For even more on how to read a full sunscreen label check out our post: “Ingredient Truths: How To Read a Sunscreen Label”.

Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreens

There are three types of sunscreen on the market:

  • Mineral ONLY Sunscreen (aka Physical Sunscreens)
  • Chemical Sunscreens
  • Chemical and Mineral Combination Sunscreens

Generally, mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays to protect your skin from the sun. Mineral only sunscreens use one or both of the following two mineral UV filters approved by the FDA: Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Many dermatologists suggest those with sensitive skin (and young children) use mineral only sunscreens. If you’re interested in a mineral only sunscreen – we offer a few options.

Chemical sunscreens, generally, absorb into the skin and absorb UV rays to protect your skin from the sun. Chemical sunscreens use one of or a combination of the following fifteen chemical UV filters approved by the FDA: Aminobenzoic acid, Avobenzone, Cinoxate, Dioxybenzone, Ecamsule, Ensulizole, Homosalate, Meradimate, Octocrylene, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Oxybenzone, Padimate O, Sulisobenzone, and Trolamine Salicylate. Note that the FDA is currently re-evaluating these chemical UV filters (they’ve said the mineral ones are safe) and some, that aren’t really used anymore, look like they will be banned. Also, we don’t want to say that these chemical sunscreens are bad – just that the FDA is currently checking up on them. We have more on the issue in our articles “US FDA Investigates Chemical Sunscreen Ingredients” and “Are Chemical Sunscreens Dangerous? – FDA Investigation Continues”.

The third kind - chemical and mineral combination sunscreens, not surprisingly, use a combination of chemical and mineral UV filters and both sit on top and absorb into the skin to protect your skin from the sun.

For even more about the difference between chemical and mineral sunscreen check out our post: “How Sunscreens Work: Mineral vs. Chemical”.

So how do you tell what kind of sunscreen you have? You can find out what UV filters a sunscreen uses by looking under the Active Ingredients section on the sunscreen’s Drug Facts panel. All sunscreens and SPF products (moisturizer with SPF, makeup with SPF, etc.) are required by the FDA to include a Drug Facts panel on the packaging.

Forms of Sunscreen

Sunscreens can be purchased as lotions/creams/moisturizers, sticks, or sprays. The key to remember is that whatever form you use, you are using enough of it. Sometimes with sticks and sprays people tend not to apply enough. The recommendation is about 1 ounce ( enough to fill a shot glass) to cover the body fully.

Additionally, with sprays make sure you don’t inhale them or apply them near heat, open flame, or while smoking.

Sunscreen In Cosmetics

Often you’ll find sunscreen ingredients in cosmetic products such as primers, foundations, and powders. Although theses cosmetics have sunscreen in them – they usually don’t offer the proper amount of coverage because people don’t put on enough.

According to dermatologist Dr. Amy Taub: “most cosmetic formulations lack enough protection against UVA rays.” And many times you would need to apply five to ten times a day to get the SPF coverage stated on the cosmetic packaging.

The recommendation from dermatologists is don’t forgo the sunscreen and just use cosmetics with sunscreen. Cosmetics with SPF are an added plus but you still need sunblock.

Sunscreen and Insect Repellant

Sunscreens are also sold in combination with insect repellant. While getting a two for one deal may sound promising, the AAD recommends purchasing these two products separately. That’s because they believe sunscreen needs to be applied generously while insect repellant is the opposite and needs to be applied sparingly.

So maybe the right sunscreen is one without insect repellant.

Sunscreen Smarts

There you have it – some options laid out so you can make the best sunscreen choice for you. Remember the best sunscreen is always the one you want to wear regularly.

For even more information on sunscreens check out our Sunscreen and Sunblock or Suncare Smarts blog series.

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