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How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

Summer is here, which means spending more time in the sun. Even though you should wear sunscreen year-round, it’s especially important this season due to more time outside and a stronger sun that is out for longer. Remember, sunburns aren’t the only consequence of not lathering up. Sunscreen helps to block rays that can also speed up the aging process, lead to wrinkles, and increase your risk of cancer. Although, not all sunscreen is created equal. There are a number of factors, like SPF, that can make a big difference in how protective your sunscreen is. Here are some pieces of advice to help you make the best decision next time you are in the sun care aisle.


Make sure it is broad spectrum.

A necessity for any sunscreen you use is that it is broad spectrum. What does that mean? It means that it protects against both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. While all sunscreens block UVB rays, the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer, only some block UVA. It is important to also protect yourself from UVA rays because they penetrate deeper in the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer and cause premature aging, wrinkles, and age spots. UVA rays are present year round at the same intensity, even when it’s cloudy outside. While this shows that you should always be lathered up when outside, it’s important to note that SPF only measures how well the product protects solely against UVB rays. 


Pick an SPF of 30 or higher.

When it comes to SPF, the higher the better! The sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of how much of the sun’s UVB rays are reflected off the skin and not absorbed after application. The ADA recommends only using an SPF of 30 or higher. For example, SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays while SPF 100 filters out about 99%. There is unfortunately no sunscreen available that will give you complete protection from the sun’s rays. Regardless of which SPF you choose, remember that the time between reapplication is always 2 hours. 


Check the ingredients.

Not all active ingredients are created equal when it comes to sun protection. The common active ingredients oxybenzones and oxybenzenes should be avoided if possible when making your selection. While these do shield the sun, they are known to be hormone disruptors and are possible carcinogens. These two ingredients are also harmful for the environment. They decrease egg production in fish and cause coral reef bleaching. Forms of Vitamin A, like retinyl palmitate and retinols should also be left out of your sunscreen. A 2012 study by the U.S. Government found that retinyl palmitate may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in sunlight. Officials in Germany and Norway have warned that retinyl palmitate and other vitamin A ingredients in cosmetics could contribute to vitamin A toxicity when combined with excessive exposure to the sun. When it comes to inactive ingredients try to avoid anything containing methylisothiazolinone, a preservative found in many sunscreens that is a common skin allergen. This ingredient causes frequent rashes in people with both sensitive and non-sensitive skin. Other inactive ingredients you may want to consider staying away from are parabens, oils (which can lead to breakouts) and fragrances. 


Choose a water-resistant sunscreen when you’re sweating or in water.

Whenever you are going to be in the water or sweating heavily, water resistant sunscreen is a must! Waterproof sunscreen simply does not exist, leading the FDA to ban that claim as misleading. Thankfully, we do have water-resistant and very water-resistant sunscreen options. Water-resistant means a sunscreen will maintain its SPF after 40 minutes of water immersion testing. Very water-resistant means it will hold up after 80 minutes of water immersion testing. It is important to note that this testing was done through multiple submersions without towel drying after leaving the water. This and other conditions should be kept in mind when it comes to personally evaluating the effectiveness of this option. Time between reapplication is the same as any other sunscreen, every 2 hours.


Consider reaching for lotion instead of spray.

Sunscreen comes in a variety of forms, including lotion/cream, gel, spray, and sticks. Lotion sunscreens are usually the best option for getting the most out of your sunscreen. They allow the most coverage for the face and dry skin, and are the easiest vehicle to make sure you are applying enough sunscreen. While lotions and creams are typically seen as the gold standard, there are other options that can be just as effective. Gel sunscreens are best for hairy areas but may also be drying on the skin. Sticks are another great alternative if used properly, especially for use on children. This option is also perfect for use in hard to reach areas. When it comes to spray sunscreens, they are the least effective and can be dangerous if inhaled. The spray component makes it difficult to ensure you are getting enough product on the skin to get full protection. Aerosols also bring up the issue of inhalation, and should not be used on babies and young children who have a harder time holding their breath. Skin-safe ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are harmful, and possibly carcinogenic, if inhaled. If you do have to use spray sunscreen, it is recommended to never spray it onto your face but instead spray into your hand then apply. If applied correctly all of these forms can successfully block the sun, but the safe, reliable coverage that lotion provides is good to keep in mind for your next sunscreen purchase. 




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Jordan Smail I am a student at the University of Arkansas studying Marketing with a Psychology minor. I'm passionate about helping people and I love what I do at Skin Ink and Laser! Come meet me at our office!

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