How to Choose Your Sunscreen
June 6, 2019
By now you know: Sunscreen is a must—even if it’s cloudy, even if you’re going to be in the shade, and even if you have a dark complexion. There’s no good reason not to slather it on—skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US; in fact, an estimated one in five Americans will develop it in their lifetime. Plus, your skin will age sooner. Need some guidance on the proper pick? Here’s how to choose your sunscreen:
Make sure the label says “broad spectrum”
That means the sunscreen protects your skin from both UVA rays (which can cause wrinkles and age spots) and UVB, the burning rays. Overexposure to either can lead to skin cancer.
Get SPF 30 or higher
SPF stands for ‘sun protection factor,’ and a minimum of 30 is what the American Academy of Dermatology recommends, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays. (SPF 50, if you’re curious, blocks 98 percent.) No sunscreen can filter out 100 percent of the sun’s rays; and a higher SPF doesn’t mean you can stay in the sun longer—you still need to reapply about every two hours, and after swimming, sweating and toweling off.
Choose ‘water-resistant’ for the beach
Or for the pool, or if you’re going for a walk or jog outside. This way you know the sunscreen is formulated to last on wet or sweaty skin, and for how long: water resistant is effective for up to 40 minutes in the water; very water resistant works for 80 minutes. You may see “sports” on the label, which usually means the sunscreen protects wet skin, but still check for the words ‘water resistant.’ What you won’t see on labels anymore are water-proof or sweat-proof, since that’s inaccurate.
Skip sunscreen-bug spray combos
Sunscreen needs to be reapplied liberally at least every two hours, but insect repellant is used less frequently, and more sparingly. You can—and should—use both, but separately and in the right order: Rub on sunscreen first and give it about 15 minutes to absorb fully; then lightly mist your skin with bug spray.
Don’t skimp on the sunscreen
Use enough to generously coat any exposed skin—for most adults, that’s about one ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass. Most people only use about a quarter or half the recommended amount. And slather it on dry skin about 15 minutes before you head outdoors, so it’s absorbed.