Choosing the best sunscreen for you can feel daunting. Various ingredients and SPF levels can make the decision a challenge, but routinely using proper sun protection could make the difference in whether you develop skin cancer later.
Should I Choose A Physical Sunscreen Or A Chemical Sunscreen?
The two main choices for sunscreen are physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. There are benefits to each one, but depending on your skin type and lifestyle one may be more favorable.
Physical sunscreen formulas are less irritating, making them better choices for those who may have sensitive skin or red undertones (very fair skin). This type of sunscreen can be more hydrating due to its ingredients, such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and niacinamide. The physical sunscreens lay on the skin creating a "barrier" against UV rays.
Some benefits to using a chemical sunscreen include if your skin is more oily or you will be doing activities where you would be more likely to sweat more or be in water.
Chemical sunscreens use ingredients like Octinoxate and Oxybenzone that are absorbed into the skin, allowing the UV rays to be somewhat penetrated into the skin and transferred into heat before being released. This is why some people feel as though they may have still gotten burned after applying their sunblock. This redness and heat are usually temporary and do not result in a burn.
Whether you choose physical sunscreens or chemical sunscreens, be sure to look for "broad spectrum" coverage. This will cover both UVA and UVB rays.
What Does SPF Mean?
We have all heard of SPF. But what does it really mean? Why is it so important?
SPF is an acronym for Sun Protection Factor. SPF is a way of determining how long a product will help prevent damage from UV rays, UVB rays primarily. These rays are shorter and stronger and are reason behind most sunburns. This does not mean we don't need to worry about UVA rays, though. They are responsible for issues deeper in the skin, aging and wrinkles.
SPF tells us how long it would take to burn if you were wearing sun protection compared with not wearing any sunscreen at all. If you have SPF 45 on, it should take that person 45 times longer than if they were not wearing any sunscreen.
But there are limitations.
The SPF rating assumes you are following the product's instructions for proper amount use and needs for reapplying. This includes:
- Applying the sunscreen at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.
- Being liberal with your application. (Think of filling a shot glass when it comes to how much sunscreen should be used.)
- Reapplying sunscreen after sweating, water sports, etc.
What SPF Should I Use?
Both the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend wearing a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun's UVB rays, for outdoor activities.
Many factors come into play when it comes to the sun and SPF. Your genetic makeup could potentially place you at a higher risk for skin cancer than your neighbor. Also, any medications you take or apply can alter your protection from the sun. Lastly, not applying enough sunscreen, applying the product unevenly, or even just forgetting to reapply will play a role in your protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Is A Higher SPF Better?
Once you break down how much more protection you are getting from the extremely high SPF's and compare what is in them to something slightly less in strength, you may find that you aren't getting that much more protection. Using an SPF of 50 for higher elevations or extended periods of time in the sun would be wise, but the SPF of 100 isn't going to make any promises of better protection. In order for SPF to get that high in protection, it would need stronger amounts of ingredients and added chemicals that would in the end be more irritating and may give you a false sense of security.
Ultimately, the best sunscreen is one you'll wear often, as the sun emits UV rays year-round.
Tess Clingerman is an aesthetician at Franciscan Physician Network Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeons Medical Spa in Indianapolis. She has a passion for skincare education and addressing the patient from a holistic perspective. Clingerman uses her blend of knowledge from her previous medical background and several years of continuing education in advanced modalities and ingredient chemistry. She loves learning about the newest trends in this ever-changing field and finding natural alternatives to everyday skincare ingredients.
By Tess Clingerman
Franciscan Physician Network Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeons Medical Spa