How to Choose the Best Sunscreen For You

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Years ago, it was pretty simple to choose a sunscreen. You picked one out by looking at the SPF. You knew the higher it was, the better protection and that was about all you looked at. Today, sunscreen labels contain a lot more information and it takes some knowledge to understand what it all means and which sunscreen is best for you.

Types of Sunscreens

The "traditional" sunscreens people have used for many years are considered chemical sunscreens. They absorb the sun's rays to keep them from your skin. They contain ingredients such as avobenzone, octocrylene, octinoxatee.

A mineral based sunscreen reflects the sun's rays away from your skin. They are also referred to as "natural" or "physical." Look for ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These types of sunscreens are often more expensive but are better if you have sensitive skin or skin conditions.

Decide the SPF you Want

It is recommended that you use an SPF of 30 or higher. For those with fair skin, a family history of skin cancer or conditions that increase your sensitivity to the sun's rays, an SPF of 30 or more is a necessity. The SPF rating tells you how much of the sun's UVB rays. An SPF of 15 blocks 93 percent, an SPF of 30 blocks 97 percent and an SPF of 50 blocks 98 percent. You should use a high SPF on you are in areas where the sun reflects off the surface, such as around water, sand or snow.

Protecting Against UVA and UVB Rays

Look for the words "broad spectrum." This indicates the product protects you from UVA rays as well as UVB. If you aren't sure, check the ingredients. The sunscreen should contain at least one of: ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide

Match Your Sunscreen with Your Activity

If you plan on swimming or will be sweating, choose a sunscreen with the words, "water resistant" on the label. There will be a number on the label - either 40 or 80. This number indicates how long the sunscreen stays effective while you are in the water or sweating. A sunscreen with the rating of 40 remains effective for 40 minutes and then should be reapplied. A rating of 80 means you should reapply in 80 minutes.

Match the Sunscreen to Your Skin Type

Look for sunscreens that match your skin type. If you have dry skin, consider a sunscreen in a moisturizing lotion. If you have oily skin, look for an oil-free sunscreen. For people with sensitive skin, the physical type of sunscreens tend to be less irritating. For sensitive skin, avoid sunscreens with ingredients such as para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and benzephenones like dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone.

Spray Sunscreens

Today, sunscreens come in creams, lotions and sprays. Many people find the spray type convenient, however, you can waste quite a bit of the sunscreen, especially if applying outdoors when it is windy. If using a spray, be careful not to inhale the spray. Sprays are good for men with a lot of hair on their body and bald areas on the head.

Sunscreen as Part of Your Protection

Choosing the correct sunscreen is important. But it is also important to remember that sunscreen is only one part of protecting your skin from damage. Avoid long exposure to the sun between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, wear wide brimmed hats and sunglasses. Wear light clothing. Protecting your skin from the sun is a complete package, not just a sunscreen. Remember, the best sunscreen is one that you use on a daily basis.

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.