It can be an overwhelming feeling walking into the grocery or drug store and seeing and entire wall of sunscreen to choose from. Which one do I grab? The cheapest brand? The biggest bottle? One for sensitive skin? Not all sunscreen is made the same and it is important to choose properly.
You want to choose a product that is broad spectrum, which means it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Some products have ingredients made to reflect the ultraviolet (UV) rays and others will absorb the rays before they penetrate the skin.
Let’s first start with the SPF (sun protection factor) that will help keep the UVB rays from burning the skin. It is important to wear a sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 and preferably SPF 30. This will shield you from about 93-97% of the UVB rays.
Some people may ask, “If SPF covers the UVB rays, what about the harmful UVA rays?” The protection from UVA rays comes from the ingredients themselves. Some will be listed on the front of the tube or the bottle, but you can always flip it over to see the full list on the back label. Ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and avobenzone are a few of the known options that can be added to the sunscreen to block these damaging rays.
For children or people with sensitive skin, you should avoid sunscreens with dyes, fragrances and other irritating ingredients such as alcohols, preservatives, PABA (paraaminobenzoic acid), oxybenzone and dioxybenzone. Labels with “sensitive” or “for kids” written across them are usually a good choice. It is advised to use sunscreen on children 6 months and older. For the younger kids, it is important to practice sun avoidance altogether. Keep them covered with clothing and hats and keep them in the shade as much as possible.
None of the products on the market are fully waterproof or sweatproof. In recent years, the FDA has eliminated the use of this wording by sunscreen manufacturers. It is advised to reapply sunscreen about every 60-90 minutes depending on the activity level. Make sure to towel off before reapplying another coat and let it absorb before any additional water activity. It is best to apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before you go out.
Although sunscreen is great to help protect us from the harmful UVA and UVB rays, it cannot protect us fully. It is necessary to remember to wear hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing, as well as seek shade as much as possible. If you have any questions about sunscreen make sure to ask your dermatologist at your next visit.
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