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A Quick Guide to Finding Your Best Sunscreen

Choosing the right sunscreen is very important, but with so many options on the market today it can also be pretty confusing. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when shopping for the best sunscreen for you.

Tip #1: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

There are two kinds of rays emitted by the sun: UVA and UVB. Understanding the difference between these two will help you make informed choices. UVB rays are responsible for sunburn. UVA rays have the ability to move more deeply into your skin and cause aging.

It’s always best to choose broad spectrum sunscreen to ensure you’re protected from both types of rays. Only sunscreens with SPF 15 or higher can claim this. SPF 2-14 only helps to prevent sunburn (UVB light).

It’s a common misconception that you should pick the sunscreen with the highest SPF rating, but not all sunscreens are created equal and high SPF sunscreens aren’t necessarily the best option. SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB radiation while SPF 50 blocks about 98% and SPF 100 about 99%, so the difference in protection is minimal. But the cost difference between SPF 50 and SPF 100 can be substantial.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests sticking to sunscreens with SPF 15-50, as those with numbers higher than SPF 50 can be misleading to consumers. That’s because people often take those higher-rated sunscreens for granted, assuming they don’t need to apply as much or as often, and feel that they can stay out in the sun for longer periods of time.

Regardless of which SPF level you choose, the biggest key is to apply enough sunscreen often enough to avoid sunburns and prevent skin damage. It’s best to apply the first application at home on your naked body as we tend to try to avoid getting it on our clothing. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on when to first apply sunscreen (usually 15-20 minutes before you go into the sun) and depending on your activities how often to re-apply it throughout the day.

Tip #2: Read the Ingredients and Avoid the Chemicals

Many sunscreens on the market today have unhealthy ingredients that may do more harm than good. When choosing a sunscreen, pick one that’s made from natural mineral ingredients like zinc and titanium oxides rather than one whose active sunscreen ingredients are chemicals. Don’t make an assumption just from the packaging. Read the ingredients list to determine if it’s mineral or chemical-based. Mineral ingredients stay on the surface of the skin and reflect away the light, whereas chemical ones absorb into the body.

Chemical-based sunscreens can contain ingredients like avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and oxybenzone, to name a few. Some research shows that many of these are likely to negatively affect tissue and travel through your skin into your body. There is evidence that some of these ingredients also may cause hormonal imbalances, or allergic reactions in some people. Oxybenzone is the most common chemical ingredient used in sunscreen; there’s a belief that it negatively affects the endocrine system, reduces sperm count in men, and perhaps is linked to endometriosis in women.

EWG suggests avoiding the use of sunscreens containing oxybenzone, especially on children and pregnant or breastfeeding women. According to their studies, another chemical ingredient, retinyl palmitate (a type of Vitamin A), has been shown to speed up the growth of cancer cells when applied to the skin prior to sun exposure. Studies have also shown it may increase sun sensitivity and chances of sunburn. That said, the EWG is advising sunscreen companies to refrain from adding Vitamin A to sunscreens until further research shows whether or not it’s safe to use prior to sun exposure.

Mineral sunscreens are the better choice, especially for those with sensitive skin, as their active ingredients aren’t absorbed into the body. Again, look for sunscreens whose active ingredients are zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and choose one that includes both.

Tip #3: Think Beyond Sunscreen

Choosing a safe and healthy sunscreen helps, but of course you can’t rely solely on sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s rays. It’s also important to reduce your time in the sun, stay in the shade, and wear sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing whenever you can.   Follow these tips and your skin will thank you this summer … as well as later in life!