How to pick the right bottle

We know much more about skin protection than we did decades ago. Studies show that just five sunburns can double a person’s risk for melanoma. What do you need to do to best protect your skin to reduce the chance of skin cancer later in life?

Selecting sunscreen

There are so many sunscreens on the market but they are not all created equal. How do you select a sunscreen to best protect your skin?

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends to start with 3 key labels on your sunscreen bottle:

  • Broad spectrum: This means your skin will be protected from both UVA and UVB radiation which can cause skin cancer.
  • SPF 30: This number indicates how well your skin is protected. Dermatologists recommend a SPF for 30 or higher which filters out 97% of the sun’s UVB rays
  • Water resistant: no sunscreen is waterproof or sweatproof. You want to select a product that is water resistant for at least 40 minutes if not 80 minutes. When swimming or sweating, you need to reapply at least every 2 hours. 

Chemical vs Physical sunscreen

There are two basic types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. These protect the skin from the sun’s rays in different ways.

Chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin and then absorbs UV rays from the sun by turning the rays into heat and releasing them from your body. There are 12 FDA approved chemical sunscreen ingredients including: avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone.  These sunscreens often provide a more thorough protection against the sun. They are also easier to apply since they absorb into the skin and are often more water resistant. 

Physical sunscreens also known as mineral sunscreens sit on the skin rather than absorbing into the skin. These products create a barrier so that UV rays cannot damage the skin. The FDA has approved two ingredients for this purpose: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These creams are heavier and more moisturizing. Children and people with sensitive skin often tolerate these sun protection products well. There are many mineral sunscreen products on the market. Stanford Medicine recommends selecting a sunscreen that is at least 10% zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. 

Selecting a sunscreen isn’t always easy with the large number of choices on the shelves. Start with the 3 tips listed above and know applying sunscreen liberally and repeatedly is providing you protection against the sun’s rays. Pay attention to how your skin responds to certain products and choose alternative products when you have adverse reactions. 

Applying sunscreen

Regardless if you choose a chemical or physical sunscreen, proper application can help your success rate in protecting against sun damage. 

  • Shake well before applying. This ensures that all the ingredients are properly mixed. 
  • A rule of thumb is that an ounce of sunscreen is the proper amount to cover your whole body. That’s about a handful. You want to be sure you are applying it liberally.
  • Be sure to not miss any areas like behind your knees or your ears.
  • Reapply at least every 2 hours.

If you are using a spray sunscreen, application can be a bit more tricky as you usually apply it outside where the wind can impact the application process. You want to make sure you apply this product liberally and spray close to the skin. Here is a more detailed explanation of how to best apply spray sunscreen. 

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