Your body needs some amount of sunshine exposure each day for good health, but too much can damage your skin, lead to premature aging, cause painful sunburn, and contribute to skin cancer. You know using sunscreen is a smart idea, but it’s hard deciding which kind is best for your family. Dozens of options line the store shelves, each advertising a different ingredient, SPF, feature, and price.
Is it best to get the highest SPF? What’s the best kind for kids and swimming? Will you be safe if you go with the cheapest choice? Are lotions or sprays better? The next time you’re wondering which kind of sunscreen to buy, you’ll have answers to all these questions and be an informed consumer.
The abbreviation SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF number is a rating of how well the sunscreen protects you from one of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays—in particular ultraviolet B rays, the rays that cause sunburn. For most people, an SPF of 15 is enough protection, but people with fair skin, sensitivity to sunlight, or a family member who’s had skin cancer should use an SPF of 30 or greater. Regardless of your SPF, reapply at least every two hours.
Older types of sunscreens only blocked the UVB rays, but research now shows that UVA rays also increase one’s risk for skin cancer, cause wrinkles, and age skin. So always use a sunscreen that’s labeled “Broad Spectrum.” This means the product protects your skin from both UVB and UVA rays. Ingredients that protect against UVA rays include avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or sulisobenzone.
Sweat and water wash sunscreen off, so if you’re planning to exercise outdoors or be in the water, purchase a sunscreen that’s labeled “water resistant” or “sweat resistant.” However, you should be aware that there’s no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. Regardless of whether your sunscreen claims to stand up to sweat or water, you still need to reapply often, as it’ll wash off after no more than 80 minutes.
Harsher chemicals are often used in adult sunscreens; therefore protect your children’s skin with a sunscreen that contains gentler ingredients. Those with sensitive or young skin shouldn’t use sunscreen that contains ingredients such as dioxybenzone, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, or paraaminobenzoic acid. Choose a kind with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient.
For some products, brand matters. When it comes to sunscreen, however, research shows that the way you use sunscreen is more important than the kind you get. Price isn’t a big factor in usefulness when it comes to sunscreen. So if you follow the label’s directions and make sure it’s not expired, your skin should be well protected, no matter how much or how little you spent on the sunscreen.
Spray sunscreens have been getting a lot of press lately. Yes, they are easy to use and less messy, but their safety has come under question. On the skin, the ingredients are deemed safe, but it’s easy to inhale the product while being sprayed.
The effect of inhaling these chemicals is being studied. Until proven safe, avoid using spray sunscreens on children. If you have no other option, spray the sunscreen in your palm and then rub it on your children’s skin, being extra careful around their mouths and eyes. And no matter what, never spray anyone’s face, including yours.