How to choose the right sunscreen and SPF for you
The unforgiving Texas sun is rapidly approaching us, bringing with it the threat of the dreaded sunburn. We’ve all been there—the pain, the peeling, the bright red reminder that you didn’t wear enough sunscreen.
Prevent sunburn before it’s too late by learning about SPF so you can choose the best sunscreen for your needs.
What is SPF?
Sun Protection Factor, more commonly known as SPF, is a measure of how much of the sun’s rays are blocked by a sunscreen. The higher the number, the more harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are blocked, protecting your skin from sunburn.
Walking up and down the sunscreen aisle can be overwhelming. There are dozens of different formulas with hard to pronounce ingredients. How do you know what level and kind of SPF to choose?
Jason Troha, FNP-C, nurse practitioner at Baylor Scott & White Family Medicine – Fort Worth, gives the lowdown on how to protect yourself from the sun this spring and summer.
What level of SPF is best for everyday use?
Most dermatologists recommend using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. At SPF 30, 97% of the sun’s UVB rays—the rays that cause sunburn—are blocked. Above an SPF of 30, the additional protection is marginal.
Go for a broad-spectrum sunscreen to get protection from UVA rays as well as UVB. Without sun protection, UVA exposure can cause skin aging. Dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen every day so you can prevent premature aging.
Is a chemical or mineral sunscreen better?
Chemical and mineral sunscreen both protect against sun damage, so whichever you use is up to personal preference. But what’s the difference?
- Mineral sunscreen, which is also sometimes called physical sunscreen, sits on top of the skin and is not absorbed into the body, often giving a whitish cast when applied. If you read the active ingredients of a sunscreen and it only has zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, it’s a mineral sunscreen.
- Chemical sunscreen is absorbed into the skin, giving a smoother appearance. Its active ingredients are avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone. Some people may be worried about absorbing chemicals from sunscreen, but studies have shown most of these chemicals don’t pose a risk to human health.
However, one chemical ingredient to consider looking out for is oxybenzone. The Environmental Working Group recommends avoiding oxybenzone due to its ability to be absorbed into the bloodstream at higher rates than previously thought. Oxybenzone can also lead to hormonal disruptions and allergic skin reactions, and damage the environment by bleaching coral reefs.
You should also consider your skin type when choosing a sunscreen.
“Typically, the best options for sensitive skin are the physical sunscreens, like zinc or titanium dioxide, as the chemical versions can cause skin irritation,” Jason said. “For kids, dermatologists usually recommend the mineral-based sunscreens.”
Other tips to protect yourself from the sun
If you’re spending the day at the beach or pool, don’t forget to pack extra sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend reapplying sunscreen after swimming or sweating, since sunscreen can rub off in the water.
Sunscreen isn’t the only way to protect your skin. Consider also wearing:
- A hat
- Sunglasses to defend your eyes and face.
- Long sleeves and loose-fitting clothing in light colors
Don’t sweat the little details about sunscreen and SPF. Any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen! Remember to reapply every two hours if you’re outside, and every four to six hours if you’re inside and out of the sun.
Got burning questions about sunscreen or skincare? Find a dermatologist near you.
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