How to Choose Dermatologist-approved Sunscreen
Sunscreen should be a year-round skin care essential, but it’s extra important during the long, sunny days of summer.
Sunscreen is a great multi-tasker, helping to prevent sunburn along with visible signs of aging like wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancer due to excessive sun exposure. The sun’s harmful rays cause other skin changes, including freckles, moles, and sun blisters on your lips, and eye injuries.
The truth is it can be hard to know which sunscreen to buy. Have you ever perused the many sunscreen brands and read labels in the drugstore and felt confused? How much SPF do you need? Should you buy water-resistant sunscreen? How do you know which ingredients are best for you? Is it safe for coral reefs and other aquatic life?
Three sunscreen essentials
When selecting sunscreen look for three dermatologist-approved sunscreen essentials.
- Broad-spectrum: You want a sunscreen that protects against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays – both UVA and UVB. UVA rays lead to wrinkles, age spots, and other signs of aging. UVB rays can cause sunburn. Prolonged exposure to either can lead to skin cancer.
- Highest SPF possible: You’re probably not checking the clock at the beach or regularly reapplying sunscreen every two hours. Use the highest SPF one you can find in order to get the best sun protection. SPF is determined when the sunscreen is used under ideal conditions including both reapplication every 2 hours and application of plenty of sunscreen. Getting the highest SPF helps to improve on “real world” use.
- Water-resistant: Water and or sweating and sun exposure go hand in hand, whether you’re headed to the pool, beach, or lake. If you like to surf, water ski, or play sports such as beach volleyball, you need the water-resistant protection.
Be sunscreen smart! Follow these other dermatologist-approved sunscreen tips:
- Check for the expiration date. In most cases, you can use leftover sunscreen from one season to the next. Still, if you’re not sure how long you’ve had the bottle or cannot find the expiration date or the sunscreen has been exposed to excessive heat or cold, it may be best to toss it and buy a new one.
- Apply an ounce of sunscreen (about a shot glass worth) to the entirety of your exposed skin. Avoid contact with your eyes.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside every day, even on cloudy days. Sunscreen is essential if you work outdoors. You should also wear it during outdoor activities like gardening, golf, or mowing the lawn.
- If possible, apply sunscreen after bathing but before putting on your swimsuit. Make sure to cover delicate areas like your ears, neck, lips, feet, bikini line, and hairline.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours. You also should also reapply after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Buy multiple sunscreens and lip balms and keep one in your bathroom, beach bag, cooler pocket, camping gear, and car.
- Watch the weather and plan your exposure. Limit direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. since the sun’s rays are strongest. Ultraviolet rays can penetrate cloud cover so do not let your guard down on cloudy days. And be careful in locations that are closer to the equator or higher altitudes.
- Remember after-sun care. Change out of your swimsuit and take a warm bath to wash away the residual sunscreen. Then apply a good moisturizer.
Other sunscreen tips
There are many brands and price points for sunscreen, making it even harder to choose. For many, it’s also a personal choice based on application and ingredients.
- Sunscreens come in lotions, gels, creams, sprays, and sticks. Some sunscreens go on thick and are hard to rub in. Others can be sprayed on.
- You may opt for a mineral-enriched sunscreen that is non-greasy and lightweight or one that is designed to hydrate as it protects, especially if you have sensitive skin. Look for ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
- People with acne-prone skin may do better with sport or gel-based sunscreens. Look for labels that say ‘non-comedogenic,’ which means that it doesn’t block pores. These are also good for individuals who find the sunscreen tends to run into their eyes and cause irritation.
- If you’re concerned about chemicals in sunscreen, look for sunscreens that have micronized titanium or zinc.
- You can also look for “reef-friendly” brands that do not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate.
- Some containers also come with the “Skin Cancer Foundation recommended daily use” seal of approval.
- Some brands also are labeled gluten-free, vegan, antioxidant-enriched, and dermatologist tested.
- When all else fails, ask for a dermatologist-approved sunscreen recommendation. This is especially important if you have a baby, a chronic skin condition that flares in the sun, or an autoimmune illness.
In addition, it never hurts to take regular breaks from the sun and wear protective clothing. Bring along an umbrella or sun tent for the beach. Invest in quality sunglasses that block UV rays and a broad-brimmed hat like the Tilley hat made in Canada. Find a shady spot, pack SPF clothing in case you stay longer than planned, and make sure to stay hydrated.
It’s also important to get an annual skin cancer screening to look for early signs of cancer. Please remember to do regular self-exams at home to check for new or changing moles or spots. Report any concerns to your dermatologist.
Contact APDerm if you are concerned about sunburns, skin cancer, or common summer rashes. Our team can diagnose your skin issues and help create an effective treatment plan.