It is really important that you pick the best sunscreen to protect your skin. When you go to the trouble of using sunscreen you want it to work. Sunscreen failure leads to skin damage that can never be undone. Not all sunscreens protect you from all of the sun's damaging UV rays! Also, some sunscreen ingredients are fragile and don't last as long as others in the bottle or on your skin. Picking the right product is critical for complete and smart sun protection. Even one sunburn creates a sun damage debt you can never repay.
Dermatologist's 3 simple steps to pick the best sunscreen to protect your skin.
1. To pick the best sunscreen for protection know that your sunscreen must block ALL the harmful UVA and UVB sun rays.
Many products historically have not! You need the product to be labeled as 'broad spectrum' meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB.
Zinc oxide is my preferred UVA filter. It blocks almost all the way through the entire UVA spectrum. Plus, zinc oxide is stable in the bottle while you're waiting to use it, stays stable on your sun exposed skin and is not absorbed into your body.
I've always recommended that my patients use a sunscreen that contains 5% or more zinc oxide. Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
Zinc oxide should be listed as an active ingredient on the back label of your product at a concentration of 5% or greater. It's my professional opinion that all the other sunscreen ingredients fall short of the dependable and broad spectrum protection afforded by zinc oxide. In my dermatology practice, I've relied on Citrix and Solbar Zinc Sunscreens for years to protect my thousands of patients and my own family. Now we have even more advanced technology in my Sheer Strength Pure Physical Sunscreens. These are weightless on your skin and transparent or tinted. They apply well on hairy skin, oily skin, sensitive skin and all skin types.
How to pick the best sunscreens for sensitive or oily skin?
These two skin types are the most challenging when it comes to sunscreen selection. Sheer Strength Pure Physical Sunscreens are ideal!
Sheer Strength Pure Physical Spray SPF 50+ applies nicely into hairy skin. Is weightless and does not discolor clothing. It is my top everyday choice for my neck, ears, chest and the back of my hands.
Sheer Strength Pure Physical Matte Tinted SPF 50+ Sunscreen is oil absorbing and tinted to hide complexion flaws. I wear this daily over my skin care routine and love the look and feel on my skin.
Sheer Strength Pure Physical Invisible SPF 50+ Sunscreen fits all skin types and is weightless and truly invisible.
All of these zinc oxide products are formulated for ingredient stability, rub into the skin nicely, don't sting the eyes and don't cause acne, allergic reactions or skin irritation.
Does the SPF number tell you if a product blocks both UVB and UVA rays?
Remember that the SPF number on a product has historically told you how well the sunscreen product blocks the UVB rays. Now some proportional UVA protection will be included with this number. Here's what you need to know about UVB and UVA:
UVB rays are the summer sunburn rays that are more intense when you're nearer to the sun. This would include the sun between 10 and 3pm in most parts of North America (except in winter), and in places that are at high altitudes or in parts of the world near the equator.
How does elevation change UVB ray intensity?
For every approximately 1000 ft increase in elevation there is a 4% increase in UVB radiation and for every degree of decrease in latitude there is a 3% increase in UVB.
UVA rays are out all day, all year, where ever you are in the world. The SPF value tells you less about your sunscreen's ability to protect you from UVA, though some proportionate protection is now included. But any product can claim to protect you from UVA if it just protects you from some of the harmful UVA rays.
How to pick the best sunscreen to protect from UVA?
Zinc oxide provides excellent protection from UVA. You have to read the back label on your sunscreen and look to see that zinc oxide is listed as an active ingredient and is present in a concentration of 5% or higher. If it isn't, then the product will not protected your skin from the majority of the harmful UVA rays in my opinion.
My second tier choice of sunscreen ingredients are products with 5% or more titanium dioxide. But, titanium dioxide does not protect well into UVA so I like to see it combined with zinc oxide.
My third tier choice are the products with Mexoryl SX (ecamsule) as in the Anthelios and Vichy brands. Be sure to pick products that contain either zinc oxide, zinc oxide plus titanium dioxide, or Mexoryl SX.
2. Only use fresh sunscreen products.
Sunscreen ingredients break down over time, especially if they were stored at high or low temperatures. I talked about this in my recent blog post: If You Want A Nice Sunburn, Use Last Year's Sunscreen. Spring clean your sunscreen and buy a new supply every year. You never know if that tube or bottle of sunscreen from last year was left in your hot car or beach bag. You can't be sure those old bottles are still good so regardless of the expiration date you should chuck 'em and start fresh every spring.
3. The third and final trick is to pick the best sunscreen is to be sure the product's base fits your activities and skin type.
Wet sweaty water activities need a water resistant sunscreen - period! You have to use a water-resistant base if water or sweat will be loosening or diluting the product on your skin. You also need to reapply your sunscreen when you get out of the water or dry off after sweating.
If you're prone to acne, be sure to pick a product that's in an oil-free base and won't clog your pores. My Sheer Strength Sunscreens are ideal for oily and acne-prone skin.
Sensitive skin patients should use a pure mineral sunscreens. My Sheer Strength Pure Physical Sunscreens are my top choice. Zinc oxide is gentle on the skin and almost never causes skin allergy or irritation. Combination zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are good choices too, but zinc oxide must be listed at 5% or greater concentration.
To learn more about the sunscreens I trust and my comprehensive sun protection strategy and products click here.
Photoprotection: a Review of the Current and Future Technologies, Steven Wang et. al., Dermatologic Therapy, Vol 23, 2010, 31-47