Choosing the Right Sunscreen for You

by Jennifer McGarrity

sunscreen types

There are several different sunscreen options that are appropriate for preventing sunburns and other sun damage in specific situations. It’s important to first realize that any type of sunscreen is always better than none but also that no sunscreen can block all UV rays, so do not select a sunblock with the assumption that it will grant you unlimited hours of harmless fun in the sun. Sunscreen complements good judgment during the summertime—it doesn’t excuse it.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that at least one ounce of broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 15 or higher be applied 15-30 minutes before spending time in the sun and be reapplied every 2 hours. Still, there are several other factors that determine which types of sunscreen might be best for you. When choosing your sunscreen, you should consider sun protection factor, amount of water resistance, and your upcoming activities.

Choosing a Sunscreen: Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

Sun protection factor, or SPF, is a measure of the protection from UVB rays that a sunscreen provides and should be considered carefully when choosing a sunscreen. Generally, any sunscreen SPF 15 or higher offers great protection against UVB rays. To get a better idea of how effective it is, SPF 15 basically means that if your skin reddens in 10 minutes with no sunscreen, it will redden in 150 minutes (15 times longer) when wearing sunscreen. Since it is always advised to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, another way of looking at SPF is by percentage of UVB rays blocked:

  • SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays

Although the differences in percentage are small, it can be worth the difference if you have sensitive skin or a history of skin cancer in your family to opt for a high SPF sun block.

Remember, too, that SPF does not measure protection against UVA rays. However, despite the fact that there is no established system for measuring UVA ray protection in the U.S., broad spectrum sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection is widely available and always recommended.

Choosing a Sunscreen: Water Resistance

Depending on how much time you’ll be spending in the water, or how sweaty you’re going to get, you should consider choosing a sunscreen that is water resistant or even water proof. Water resistant sunscreen protects against harmful rays for up to 40 minutes when fully emerged in water; water proof sunscreen protects for 80. You should choose your sunscreen accordingly, realizing that sunscreen with no water resistance washes off quickly with sweat or water.

Choosing a Sunscreen: Type of Activity

Different occasions often call for different types of sunscreen. For day to day activities including going to an indoor job, school, or other activities that require little time in the sun, a moisturizer or aftershave product with built in SPF is sufficient. These are readily available, but it is recommended that you choose one with and SPF of 15 or higher, because UV rays can penetrate most windows and clothes. These are also ideal because they do not need to be reapplied as often and don’t leave your skin feeling greasy. If you plan on spending the day in the sun, a more substantial sunscreen is suggested. Choose a high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen that is water-proof or water resistant. These sunscreens tend to hold together on the skin better and are less likely to drip into your eyes. They may, however, be slightly sticky, and not pair well with makeup. As mentioned earlier, any sunscreen will need to be reapplied every 2 hours, or immediately after swimming, excessive sweating, or toweling off.

Choosing a Sunscreen: Skin Type

Your skin type may also affect which types of sunscreen are best for you. For your face or to keep skin from getting greasy, there are oil-free and non-greasy sunscreens meant specifically for those purposes. These tend to not irritate skin as much and also go on with a dryer touch (brands like Neutrogena and Aveeno have especially wide assortments of this type of sunscreen). If you have especially sensitive skin, there are hypoallergenic sunscreens that won’t hurt your skin. For people who burn extremely easily there high SPF sunscreens that will help avoid sunburn.

Regardless of the type of sunscreen you choose, remember that preventing skin damage before it happens will save you hardship in the future. Be smart about the amount of time you spend in the sun and use sunscreen daily to insure healthy, beautiful skin for years to come.

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