Choosing the Best Sunscreen

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Choosing the Best Sunscreen With so many different types of sunscreen on the store shelf, how do you know which one is best for you? There are several considerations when deciding which product is best for your lifestyle and your skin.

Sunscreen Terms

The labels on sunscreen can contain the following terms:

Broad-spectrum - This sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

PPD - Persistent Pigment Darkening - measures how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays. Although there is no standardized numbering system for PPD, generally, the higher the number, the greater the protection. In some countries the number is replaced by a plus sign; the more plus signs, the greater the protection.

SPF - Sun Protection Factor - the higher the number, the greater the protection against the sun's UVB rays. SPF's are usually between 2 and 60. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using at least an SPF of 15. This number indicates how well the sunscreen blocks UVB rays only. This number tells you how long you can be in the sun without burning, for example, if you normally burn in 15 minutes and you choose an SPF of 20, you would multiply 15 by 20 to get 300. You should be able to stay in the sun for 300 minutes before burning.

UVB - Ultraviolet B - the sun's rays that can cause skin cancer

UVA - ULtraviolet A - the sun's rays that are responsible for aging of the skin and overexposure to UVA rays can also cause skin cancer

Lifestyle and Other Considerations

In addition to looking at the different terms on the sunscreen you will need to take your lifestyle, skin type and planned activities into account.

If you are going to be in the water, choose a sunscreen that states "waterproof" rather than "water resistant." Generally, water resistant sunscreen will offer up to 40 minutes protection while waterproof will offer up to 80 minutes of protection from the sun while you are in the water.

If you will be sweating during activities, choose at the very least a water resistant sunscreen. Sweat, like water, can dilute the sunscreen on your skin.

If you have oily skin or are prone to acne, choose a sunscreen that has an oil-free base.

People with sensitive skin may want to use a pure zinc-oxide sunscreen which can be gentle on the skin and rarely causes irritation.

Make sure your sunscreen in fresh. Sunscreen ingredients become less effective with time. You may want to throw out any sunscreen you purchased last summer and purchase new bottles for the upcoming season to make sure you are properly protected.

Choosing a lotion or spray is purely a personal decision. Both are effective if you have chosen the correct SPF and PPD protection for your activities. You may, however, find you have a preference to using one over the other based on convenience.

Choose the SPF based on how long you will be in the sun. Although the higher the number the better the protection, you don't necessarily need the highest SPF you can find. A general rule of thumb may be to use SPF of 30 on days you will be outside for a few hours and an SPF of 40 or more if you plan to be outside for more than a few hours.

If you have fair skin, you may want to use a higher SPF.

Be aware of how your skin feels after using the sunscreen. If your skin feels dry, your sunscreen may have too much alcohol. If your skin is irritated, you may be sensitive to certain chemicals in the sunscreen. You may need to try several different sunscreen products to find the one that is best for your skin type.

Sunscreens in cosmetics or lotions often do not offer enough protection on their own. Be careful when choosing this type of sunscreen, it may be more beneficial during the summer months to switch to cosmetics without sunscreen and use a separate sunscreen.


"Choosing the Best Sunscreen," 2010, May 29, Ameya Pendse, ABC: Good Morning America

"How to Choose the Right Sunscreen," Updated 2011, Aug 28, Staff Writer, Skinacea

"Sunscreen," Updated 2011, June 27, Staff Writer, U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.