How To Choose Sunscreen


by Ravi Teja Tadimalla

Spending time outdoors for extended hours often leaves your delicate skin vulnerable to the harsh effects of sun damage. Whether you are vacationing at a beach or roaming outside for work, it is essential to protect your skin with the right sunscreen or other sun protection options.

Continuous UV radiation exposure can cause a host of physical issues such as sunburn, wrinkles, skin damage, or even increase the risk of skin cancer (1).

While you may not always avoid the sun, what you can do is use the right sunscreen. However, not all sunscreens are created equal. Picking the right product can make all the difference – and here we tell you how.

How Does Sunscreen Work?

Sunscreen primarily works by blocking and absorbing UV rays through various physical and chemical particles (2).

While the physical particles such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide help reflect UV radiation from the skin, the chemical ingredients in the sunscreen react with the radiation before it penetrates the skin. They also absorb the sun rays and release energy in the form of heat (2).

As stated, choosing the right sunscreen can make a big difference. In the following section, we have listed the factors you must consider to pick the right sunscreen for you.

How To Choose The Right Sunscreen?

When choosing a sunscreen, it is essential to consider any allergies you may have to specific ingredients, its safety, and potential toxicity. You also must ensure the ingredients in the sunscreen do not disrupt your hormone balance.

1. Consider SPF (Sun Protection Factor)

SPF is primarily a measure of how much UVB light the sunscreen can filter out. Using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 will help protect you from this daily exposure to UV rays (3).

However, most dermatologists recommend using an SPF of at least 30 as it blocks about 97 percent of UVB rays (SPF 15 may block only 93 percent of the UV rays) (4).

Ensure you apply enough sunscreen to various exposed areas of the skin every day. This is especially important on days when you are likely to spend extended periods outdoors.

2. Look For The Active Ingredients

Check the active ingredients in the sunscreen. Look for formulas that contain titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and avobenzone(3).

Make sure you avoid sunscreens with vitamin A (commonly referred to as retinyl palmitate). Vitamin A is thought to increase the rate of skin tumors (3).

3. Pick Broad Spectrum SPF

Pick a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage and SPF 30 to 50. It helps protect your skin better from sunburn and sun damage. It also better helps prevent UVA radiation (3).

You may want to avoid products with a very high SPF(over 50). It is often believed that such products do not offer any extra protection and are expensive too.

4. Sunscreen Formulation

Sunscreen formulation typically refers to a sunscreen’s delivery format and affects how it feels and looks on an individual’s skin. There are three common sunscreen formulations available on the market. Although each of these forms has its benefits, they can all offer sun protection if used right:

  • Sunscreen Sprays

These are perfect for applying sunscreen to hard-to-reach places on the body. They are a good option for anyone with a lot of body hair. However, make sure not to inhale the spray while applying.

  • Sunscreen Lotions

These are among the most common and moisturizing sunscreen formulations available. They are available in multiple variants to cater to various skin types.

  • Sunscreen Sticks

These are among the most portable and less messy options. You can use them by applying them to your skin and rubbing them in. They are a convenient option and are especially suitable for travel. They have minimal chances of leakage.

In general, all sunscreens have a shelf life of three years. Store them in a cool and dry place for best results.

5. Consider Your Level Of Sun Exposure

One of the other essential factors to keep in mind when choosing sunscreen is your level of sun exposure. For instance, you must consider how long you will be exposed to the sun, how strong the sun is, and what activities you will be performing while being exposed to the sun.

Typically, the strength of the sun is measured on the Ultraviolet (UV) Index, which ranges from 1 (low) to 11+ (extreme). These UV rays are strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and when the UV Index is at 8 or above, our unprotected skin can burn in 15 minutes or less. Based on your level of sun exposure, here is what you need to choose as your sunscreen:

  • Outdoors: If you are mostly outdoors for an extended period (two hours or more), go for sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, depending on your skin color.
  • Sports/swimming: If you are going for sports outdoors or in water, it is best to choose a sweat-resistant or water-resistant sunscreen. Go for SPF 30 or higher, depending on your skin color, and reapply every 40 to 60 minutes.
  • Every day: On regular days when you will be in the sun and shade, make sure to wear sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Apart from picking the right sunscreen, there are a few other steps you can take to protect your skin from sun damage. Some of them are listed below.

Other Ways To Protect Your Skin From The Sun

1. Limit Your Exposure To The Sun

When you go out, try to limit your direct exposure to the sun by seeking shade in some form.

2. Cover Up

Dress appropriately along with a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin from the sun as much as possible. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that deflect harmful rays.

3. Carry An Umbrella

If you need to walk out in the sun, it is best to carry an umbrella to stay well protected.

Read to know a few additional tips on sunscreen use.

Sunscreen Usage Tips

  • Always wear sunscreen irrespective of the time of the year.
  • If you are in swimwear, apply about two tablespoons of sunscreen to the exposed parts of your body. If you use a sunscreen spray, make sure to apply an even sheen over the whole body.
  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed parts of the body, including your face, hands, feet, ears, neck, and top of the head (if your skin is exposed).
  • Make sure to put a base coat of SPF 15 or 30 all over the exposed parts at least half an hour before stepping into the sun. Reapply every two hours.
  • Ensure you reapply sunscreen after excessive sweating, swimming, or toweling off. Always follow the label guidelines for reapplication.

Considering your skin type is also an essential aspect of choosing the right sunscreen. In the next section, you will know the best sunscreen options for sensitive or acne-prone skin.

Which Sunscreen Is Best For Sensitive Or Acne-Prone Skin?

Acne-Prone Skin

Sunscreens are known to clog pores. Hence, it is essential to choose oil-free formulas for the face. You can use non-comedogenic sunscreens (that do not contain ingredients that block skin pores).

For dry skin, you can go for moisturizers with sunscreen or sunscreens that contain hydrating ingredients.

Sensitive Skin (Or If You Avoid Chemicals)

Sensitive skin remains fresh and vibrant when exposed to the least amount of ingredients it may otherwise react to. Opt for a physical or mineral sunscreen as it features zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that protect the skin (3). These two key ingredients would not burn or sting eyes. They work by sitting on top of your skin and form a barrier to protect you from the sun.

Skin Color

Your skin color largely determines the SPF level you should wear. For instance, if you are fair-skinned and always or usually burn, it is best to wear SPF 30 or higher. On the contrary, if you are medium to dark-skinned, or you usually tan and never burn, you can go with SPF 15.

Final Thoughts

Sunscreen protects our skin from the sun’s harsh effects. Choosing the best sunscreen typically depends on several factors, including SPF, ingredients, skin type, formulation, and sun exposure level. The right sunscreen for you offers you the greatest benefit. We believe this article has added value to you. Pick your sunscreen today and use it regularly – you will only find your skin getting better with time.

Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions

What is the best type of sunscreen – spray, lotion, stick, or gel?

This primarily depends on your personal preference. You need to remember that irrespective of the above options, any sunscreen is only useful if you use it the right way – to apply an ounce of sunscreen to the entirety of your exposed body.

What is the difference between a chemical sunscreen and  aphysical sunscreen?

Chemical and physical sunscreens essentially refer to the active ingredients used in them. While the chemical sunscreen uses active ingredients that readily absorb the sun’s rays and are more easily absorbed into the skin, a physical sunscreen contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that sit on top of the skin and deflects the sun’s rays.

Since chemical sunscreens are absorbed into your skin, they are usually not recommended for daily use. Physical sunscreens are better to help you protect your skin effectively and safely.

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Ravi Teja Tadimalla is an editor and a published author. He graduated from SRM University, Chennai, and has been in the digital media field for over six years. He has a Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition & Research from Wageningen University. He considers himself a sculptor born to chip away at content and reveal its dormant splendor. He started his career as a research writer, primarily focusing on health and wellness, and has over 250 articles to his credit. Ravi believes in the great possibilities of abundant health with natural foods and organic supplements. Reading and theater are his other interests.
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