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Sunscreen For All

It seems that summer, or at least summer weather, has arrived! And with summer comes sunscreen, even on cloudy days. On a surface level, all sunscreens have the same task: To minimize skin’s exposure to sunlight and, in doing so, reduce the signs of skin damage and lower the risk of skin cancer.

However, not all sunscreens are created, or should I say formulated, equally.

In general, there are two types: chemical and physical.

For chemical formulas, the skin absorbs the rays, and then the sunscreen converts that UV into heat and then releases the heat.

Physical sunscreens use minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to shield skin from UV rays, creating a protective coating on the skin.

Whether chemical or physical, good sunscreens now sidestep the biggest drawbacks from the sunscreens of times past, like ghostly-white finishes and off-putting scents.

Here’s a rundown of some factors to consider when shopping for sunscreen this season.

First up, everyone should wear sunscreen, hands down. Speaking of which, don’t forget to apply some on the back of your hands.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the minimum number of broad-spectrum is SPF 30. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) refers to the amount of UV radiation it takes to produce a sunburn when wearing that particular sunscreen, in comparison to how much UV exposure it takes for unprotected skin to get burned. So, SPF 30 theoretically allows you to stay in the sun 30 times longer without burning than you could without sunscreen. But generally, SPF 30 blocks about 97% of the sun’s rays, while SPF 50 can bump that up to about 98%. No level of SPF provides 100% protection, but diligent use of SPF 30-50 should keep your skin healthy and youthful looking.

Next up, texture. This is a matter of both personal preference and skin type. If you have acne-prone skin, you may want to avoid creamy or oily textures and instead seek out gels and powders like Nivea’s Sun Protection Water Gel SPF 50.

Dryer skin will benefit from thicker sunscreens like Aveeno’s Protect + Hydrate sunscreen lotion SPF 60.

And you’ll also want to be mindful of your outdoor plans. Obviously, waterproof products for swimming or using a sunscreen stick like CeraVe’s Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50, with zinc oxide on the face to avoid stinging in the eyes from forehead sweat. If you are in the woods, you’ll want to avail yourself of a sunscreen/bug-repellent combo. For applying sun protection over makeup, use a mineral-based SPF powder.

With all of these considerations, you may be able to guess that I’d recommend different sunscreens for different activities and members of your household.

On weekdays, I use Supergoop’s Glowscreen (SPF 40) as a foundation and finish off my makeup with Mineral’s sunscreen setting powder (SPF 35). For the body, I spray drugstore brand clear spray or Coola’s Organic Sunscreen SPF 50, fragrance-free spray. For the kids, one of whom suffers from eczema, we use Babyganics 50 SPF Sunscreen Spray. I like a spray application for kids because it’s quicker than lotion, and you can hit them when they are literally running out the door.

For weekends with upcoming camping and hiking, we’ll pull out our heavy-hitter sunscreens like Bullfrog Mosquito’s Coast Bug Spray and Sunscreen SPF 50 for double duty of sun protection and insect repellent. For pool days, the whole family likes Coppertone SPORT Sunscreen SPF 50, which is resistant to water (for about 80 minutes), sweat, and heat. I also like to layer on Sun Bum’s SPF 30 Sunscreen Scalp and Hair Mist.

It can be hard to gauge with sprays how much to use, but ideally, you’d apply an ounce of sunscreen to your whole body, which is equivalent to the size of a golf ball or shot glass. Typically, most people do not apply enough sunscreen, nor do they apply it throughout the day. The standard advice is to reapply every two hours while outdoors or immediately after swimming. Even if sunscreen is water-resistant, that doesn’t mean it’s waterproof, so reapplication is necessary.

When it comes to chemical versus physical or mineral sunscreen, the main factor I consider, besides the level of protection, is how else it can affect the skin. Chemical sunscreens can cause redness and irritation for sensitive skin. Mineral sunscreens can be difficult to blend and are less resistant to water. So, I end up with a mix of sunscreens for a mix of uses.

Mineral sunscreen for the face, chemical for arms and legs, SPF ChapStick, and a mist for the scalp and hair.

You may find a big tub of sunscreen works for everyone in your household, or each person may have their individualized sunscreen options. For any sunscreen scenario, it’s important to wear it every day, especially during the spring and summer.

Other ways to protect against the sun are by wearing hats, reflective clothing, and sunglasses. And don’t forget to dab sunscreen on the backs of hands, tops of feet, and ridges of ears.