How do I choose a sunscreen?

Ronald Cotliar, MD
Choosing a good sunscreen is important for protecting the skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a sunscreen that is:
  • broad-spectrum (protects against both ultraviolet A, or UVA, and ultraviolet B, or UVB, rays)
  • sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher
  • water resistant to provide protection while swimming or sweating
The type of sunscreen, provided it has adequate SPF, is a matter of personal choice. However, it should be applied generously and frequently throughout the day. Available options include lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks and sprays.
Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure to all areas of skin that are not covered by clothing. Sunscreens help extend the length of time you can be outdoors before your skin begins to redden, but they don’t offer 100% protection from skin-cell damage.
When choosing a sunscreen, the product should have an SPF of 30, it should provide broad-spectrum protection, and be consistent with your skin type. Watch me share some tips for finding the best sunscreen for you.
The Environmental Working Group's sunscreen database rates the safety and efficacy of about 1,400 sun protection factor (SPF)-rated products, including about 750 sunscreens for beach and sports use. They give high ratings to brands that provide broad spectrum, long-lasting protection with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns when absorbed by the body.
Be sure that the sunscreen you purchase states it provides UVA/UVB protection. While sunscreen use helps to minimize damaging sunburns, it doesn't completely prevent burning.

A sunscreen with SPF-30 or greater should be used all year for all skin types. If you develop a rash or other type of allergic response to a sunscreen, try a different brand or form (lotion vs. gel, or protective clothing, for example) or switch to a sunscreen containing the active ingredients of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These products don't require chemical interaction with the skin to be effective, provide a protective shield-like barrier and rarely cause rashes. All sunscreens need to be reapplied after water contact or sweating.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.