It can be difficult to pick a sunscreen with so many different choices and formulations, but the importance of daily application is paramount to minimize risk of skin cancer and premature aging. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by about 40 percent, and lower your melanoma risk by 50 percent. It can also help prevent premature skin aging caused by the sun, including wrinkles, sagging and age spots.
It’s also important to know exactly how to apply and what to look for when looking for your SPF soulmate. Below I’m sharing some frequently asked questions about sunscreen and my favorite recommendations for the entire family.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number tells you how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to redden your skin if you apply the sunscreen exactly as directed compared with the amount of time without sunscreen. So, if you use an SPF 30 product properly, it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you used no sunscreen.
How Often? How Much?
The average person should use 1.5 ounce of sunscreen to cover their body — this is the size of a standard shot glass. Application should be 15 minutes before sun exposure and every two hours thereafter, with more frequent reapplication after heavy sweating or swimming.
Areas not to overlook include the scalp (including the part), the ears, back of neck, hands, and feet.
Sunscreen isn’t just for the beach. It should be applied even on a cloudy day as there are still quite a few penetrative rays that make it through the clouds. Also, snowy mountaintops reflect light so it’s just as important to pack on your ski trip.
What To Look For?
- “Broad spectrum” will protect the skin from UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays cause photodamage, wrinkles, and aging, and the UVB are what is responsible for burning.
- SPF 30, minimum according to the American Academy of Dermatology. As a side note, SPF “maxes out” around a SPF 50 and, while you can buy those marked higher, it doesn’t necessarily offer much more protection.
- Reef-Safe/Ocean-Safe. Not always listed, but more on that below!
Types of Sunscreen
There are two types of sunscreen, physical and chemical.
- Physical sunscreen, also known as mineral sunscreen or inorganic sunscreen, uses mineral oxides such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect and scatter the UV rays before damage to the skin can occur. These can be a great option for those with sensitive skin as they are often less irritating and more moisturizing. Although formulation has improved, they are often difficult to rub in and can leave a chalky, white cast on the skin.
- Chemical, or organic sunscreens use chemicals which absorb the UV ray, convert it into heat energy, and release it from the body. These are quick-absorbing and work great for water and sweat resistance. Two particular ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been found to damage coral reefs. You can look at the ingredient list on the back, or see them labeled as “Ocean-Safe” or “Reef-Safe” on the packaging. Many other additives such as avobenzone, homosalate, and octisalate are all clean, reef-safe, and have a low risk of irritating skin.
Onto the recommendations…
- Favorite Daily Face: Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen
This is my holy grail sunscreen. It is velvety smooth and works well on its own or as a makeup primer. Shout out to Supergroup! for being one of my favorite sun protection companies. They have an incredible array of options (including eyeshadow!) and have proven themselves time and time again as innovators in the field. They have a solid commitment to research and “Clean Chemical” sunscreens, which are reef-safe and irritant-limited.
- Favorite Daily Face, Mineral: Umbra Sheer™ Physical Daily Defense SPF 30
Love this one from Drunk Elephant! It’s sheer, quickly absorbed, and loaded with antioxidants and natural oils to moisturize skin and increase the anti aging benefits. For extra credit, mix in a few drops of D-Bronzi™ Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops for further antioxidant effect with a bronzy, “just back from the beach” finish.
- Favorite Light Coverage: EltaMD UV Elements Broad Spectrum SPF 44
This tube is a miracle. It is a physical sunscreen in a tinted base containing ultra-moisturizing hyaluronic acid. It blends seamlessly and is the perfect shade to even out skin tone.
- Favorite for Quick Reapplication: Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Brush-On Shield SPF 50
This all-mineral formula from Colorscience comes in the easiest packaging to throw in your bag. The product is built right into the brush and comes in four shades to match most skin tones.
- Favorite for Glowing Skin: Supergoop! Glow Stick Sunscreen SPF 50
Portable, dry oil sunscreen stick that gives a dewy glow along cheeks, collarbones, and anywhere else you need a little shine.
- Favorite for Body: Banana Boat Simply Protect Sport Sunscreen Lotion
Lightweight, reef-safe, and sweat- and water-resistant up to 80 minutes. Made with fewer ingredients, no artificial oils, fragrances, or parabens.
- Favorite for Body, Mineral: Active Mineral-Based Sunscreen SPF 50+
Blue Lizard is an Australian-based dermatologist favorite for over 20 years. Sweat- and water-resistant up to 80 minutes, rubs in smooth and dries clear. This is a reef-friendly, mineral-based formulation that does include octisalate in addition to the physical barriers. The best thing about Blue Lizard is that the bottle changes colors as it is exposed to UV rays, reminding you to reapply!
- Favorite Mineral Sunscreens for Kids and Baby: Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 50
This is an 80-minute sweat- and water-resistant mineral sunscreen that rubs in better than most of the mineral lotions. It has a light scent and doesn’t leave a white cast.
- Favorite Spray Sunscreen for Kids and Baby: Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Spray SPF 50
I love this one for my kids for the price point and the ease of application. In a few quick sprays I can coat little arms, legs, scalps, and ears. This is a reef-safe, extra water-resistant formula.
- Favorite Sampler Set: Sephora Favorites Sun Safety Kit
Every spring Sephora launches a kit of sun care products with a portion of the proceeds donated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It is an easy way to sample some new products and support a great cause.
- Babies Less Than 6 Months Old
These little ones have such sensitive skin, they really shouldn’t have any topical formulation. You’re better off keeping them in the shade and using wide-brimmed hats, blankets, and sun-protective clothing.
Hopefully this helps you sort out the sea of sunscreen for an enjoyable summer!