Everything You Need to Know About Choosing a Sunscreen

Stores have a bewildering selection of sunscreens available. Which do you need? This article will help you know how to choose the right sunscreen for you.

People on sunny beach at midday

Sunscreen is so important for your health. Gone are the days when dermatologists thought people with deeper skin tones or people who never burned were safe from skin cancer.

Now dermatologists advise wearing sunscreen every time you spend time in the sun. However, with so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right sunscreen for your needs.

Let’s take a look at the different types of sunscreens and their benefits. Whether you have sensitive skin, need a sunscreen that can stand up to sweat, or are concerned about chemical sunscreens, there is a sunscreen out there for you.

Chemical Sunscreens vs. Physical Sunscreens

When it comes to choosing a sunscreen, one of the most important decisions you’ll face is whether to opt for a mineral or chemical sunscreen. Both types offer protection against harmful UV rays, but their formulations and effects on the skin differ significantly.

Mineral Sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, create a barrier on the skin’s surface that reflects and scatters UV rays. They contain natural ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which form a protective layer that starts working as soon as it’s applied.

These sunscreens are great for those with sensitive skin or individuals prone to allergies, as they are less likely to cause irritation. Humans have used them for centuries with little trouble. But there are a couple of potential downsides.

Mineral sunscreens tend to leave a white cast on the skin because zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are white minerals. This can be more noticeable on people with darker skin tones, and it may not blend well with certain makeup products.

Compared to chemical sunscreens, they’re usually thicker and heavier consistency. While this can provide a great physical barrier against the sun, it may feel greasier or heavier on the skin, especially for those with oily or acne-prone skin.

Zinc oxide provides broad-spectrum protection, but titanium dioxide alone may not effectively block UVA rays. It is important to choose a mineral sunscreen that contains adequate amounts of both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to ensure comprehensive protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

Mineral sunscreens can be difficult to reapply, especially over makeup. Since they sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed, reapplication may result in a buildup of product and may not blend well with existing makeup.

This can make it challenging to maintain the recommended level of sun protection throughout the day.

Chemical Sunscreens

The chemical sunscreens are:

  • Avobenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Oxybenzone
  • Padimate O
  • Trolamine Salicylate

These work differently from the mineral sunscreens. They absorb UV radiation and convert it into heat that is then released from the body.

These sunscreens penetrate into the skin’s top layers and provide broad-spectrum protection. Chemical sunscreens tend to be more lightweight and easier to apply compared to mineral ones.

Reapplication is easier too, because you can find such a wide array of formulas and one is bound to absorb well into your skin.

However, chemical sunscreens are more likely to provoke skin irritation or allergic reactions. There are also concerns about certain ingredients that may disrupt hormones or have adverse effects on the environment.

Some chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been found to have harmful effects on coral reefs when washed off in the ocean.

Broad Spectrum Sunscreens for Complete Sun Protection

Whether you choose chemical or physical sunscreens, you need broad spectrum sunscreens to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, preventing sunburn and reducing the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

It’s important to look for the words broad spectrum on sunscreen labels to ensure comprehensive protection against all types of harmful rays.

Water-Resistant Sunscreens for All-Day Protection

Water-resistant sunscreens are designed to stay effective even when exposed to water or sweat, making them ideal for outdoor activities or swimming.

It’s important to reapply water-resistant sunscreen every 80 minutes or immediately after towel-drying to maintain its effectiveness.

Sensitive Skin Sunscreens for Gentle Protection

Sunscreens specifically formulated for sensitive skin are free from potential irritants, such as fragrances and preservatives, minimizing the risk of allergic reactions. These sunscreens are designed to provide gentle yet effective protection for those with delicate skin.

When choosing a sunscreen for sensitive skin, look for labels that indicate the product is ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘dermatologist-tested’, as this ensures they have undergone testing to ensure they are gentle and safe for sensitive skin types.

Mineral Sunscreens for Natural UV Defense

Mineral sunscreens are a great option for those seeking a more natural and environmentally-friendly way to protect their skin from harmful UV rays. These sunscreens contain active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which physically block and scatter UV rays on the skin’s surface.

One of the key advantages of mineral sunscreens is that they provide immediate protection upon application, as the minerals create a physical barrier on the skin. This means there is no need to wait for the sunscreen to absorb into the skin before going out in the sun.

Another benefit of mineral sunscreens is that they are often biodegradable, making them a more sustainable choice. Additionally, they are considered reef-safe, which means they do not contain chemicals that harm coral reefs when washed off in the ocean.

Mineral sunscreens are usually well-tolerated by most skin types, including those with sensitive skin or allergies. They are less likely to cause irritation or trigger allergic reactions because they do not penetrate the skin like chemical sunscreens do.

When choosing a mineral sunscreen, look for products that offer broad spectrum protection to ensure coverage against both UVA and UVB rays. It’s also important to check the label for any additional ingredients to make sure the sunscreen meets your specific needs.

Spray Sunscreens: Convenient but Effective?

Spray sunscreens provide convenience and ease of application, especially for hard-to-reach areas or when dealing with squirming kids.

However, it’s important to ensure proper coverage and avoid inhaling the spray. Additionally, they may not offer as much protection as creams or lotions when not applied properly.

There are also concerns about the what inhaling the chemicals in these products might do to your health. They can also cause eye irritation. As you can imagine, spraying these in a breeze could easily cause them to get in your eyes, nose or mouth.

Tinted Sunscreens for Sun Protection with a Flawless Finish

Tinted sunscreens offer the benefits of sun protection and light coverage in one product, giving a more even skin tone and a natural finish. They can be used as a substitute for foundation or as a primer under makeup, providing a convenient way to incorporate sun protection into your beauty routine.

Typically, however, these products only have an SPF of about 15. This may be fine if your only sun exposure will be walking from the subway to work, but it wouldn’t be adequate for a two-hour picnic.

Choosing the Right SPF Sunscreen for Your Needs

When selecting a sunscreen, it’s important to consider the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) to ensure adequate protection against harmful UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburn. Here are a few tips to help you choose the right SPF sunscreen for your needs:

  1. Know your skin type: Different skin types have varying levels of sensitivity to the sun. Fair or sensitive skin may require a higher SPF for added protection.
  2. Consider your activity: If you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, especially during peak sun hours, choose a higher SPF sunscreen for extended protection.
  3. Timing: Plan to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure to allow it to fully absorb into your skin. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  4. SPF levels: SPF levels indicate the level of protection against UVB rays. Higher SPF numbers provide greater protection, but it’s important to remember that no sunscreen can offer 100% protection.
  5. Consider your location: If you are in a region with intense sun exposure, such as at high altitudes, on a beach, or near reflective surfaces like water or snow, you may want to opt for a higher SPF sunscreen to account for the increased UV radiation.

Remember, regardless of the SPF level, sunscreen should always be reapplied regularly to maintain its effectiveness and protect your skin from harmful UV rays.