Monday Medical: Sunscreen 101: Find the best one for you |

Monday Medical: Sunscreen 101: Find the best one for you

Stuck in the sunscreen aisle? You’re not alone.

With hundreds of options and lengthy ingredient names, choosing the right sunscreen can be a chore.

It’s an important decision. Sunscreen is a first-line defense against the ultraviolet radiation that bombards us every day, and those UV rays have a range of harmful impacts, from causing cancer to wrinkles.

But selecting a sunscreen doesn’t have to be a painful process. Check out the following tips to help find a sunscreen that’s right for you.

  • Find a sunscreen that works for you. There isn’t a single best sunscreen out there, but there may be a sunscreen that’s best for you. According to resources from the Mayo Clinic, the most important step is finding a sunscreen you’ll use regularly and according to the directions. If you don’t like the feel of a thick, sticky sunscreen, keep looking until you find something lighter. If you have a skin condition, such as acne or eczema, choose a sunscreen that doesn’t make it worse.
  • Be sure it’s broad spectrum. The sunscreen should clearly state it offers “broad spectrum” protection, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Both types of radiation can contribute to skin cancer, while UVB rays also cause burns and UVA rays also cause premature aging.
  • Use SPF 30 to 50. SPF stands for sun protection factor, which measures how much protection a sunscreen offers against UVB radiation. Currently, there’s no rating for UVA radiation. As SPF rating goes up, the protection increases slightly: SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 protects against 98 percent of UVB rays. A sunscreen with an SPF higher than 50 doesn’t provide a marked benefit.
  • Understand ingredients. Sunscreens use physical blocks to reflect UV rays or chemical blocks to absorb them. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the two types of physical blocks, and both protect against UVA and UVB radiation. These ingredients can be less irritating to the skin than chemical blocks. There is much larger range of chemical blocks, including avobenzone and mexoryl. The chemical block oxybenzone is known to harm coral reefs, so it should be avoided if you’re swimming in the ocean.
  • Apply liberally. When it comes to putting on sunscreen, most people don’t use enough. Put it on 15 minutes before going outside, and apply to dry skin. Be sure every bit of exposed skin to the sun is covered, including hands, ears and lips.
  • Apply again. Reapply your sunscreen every two hours and immediately after swimming and sweating.
  • Check water resistance. Look for water resistant sunscreens if you’ll be sweating or in the water.
  • Stay away from sprays: Though convenient, sprays can be inhaled, which means you’re breathing in chemicals that are meant only for your skin. Plus, sprays are flammable, so they shouldn’t be used around flames. Also, they often don’t fully cover your skin, which means less protection.
  • Use it every day. Don’t just think about slathering on the sunscreen when you’re gearing up for a bike ride or hitting the river. Most exposure to UV radiation happens when you’re doing everyday activities, such as driving to work, reading by a window or walking to the store.

The bottom line? Find a sunscreen you like, and use it. And, while you’re at it, follow other sun-safety tips, such as staying out of the sun when it’s at its peak, from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and using sunprotective clothing whenever possible.

This article references information from the Mayo Clinic, Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at


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