How to Pick the Right Sunscreen

A girl applies sunscreen to her arm
Share This Post:

Our last blog focused on the importance of staying safe during these summer days – or any days – when you’re out in the sun. Using sunscreen anytime you’re outside probably doesn’t even require a second thought, but this blog will discuss a few of the finer points of sunscreen use to help you choose the one(s) that’s right for you. Protection from the sun is important; skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US, with more than one million new cases reported each year.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a proposed rule that would update the regulations required for most sunscreen products sold in the US after decades. Although these regulations are still pending approval, they are worth noting as the FDA seeks to use current science to ensure the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, explained, “The proposal we’ve put forth would improve quality, safety, and efficacy of the sunscreens Americans use every day.”

What is SPF and does it matter?

SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and, in sunscreen, helps to block your skin from the sun’s radiation. You are exposed to this radiation anytime you’re outside (even on cloudy days) or are near a sunny window (which you know if you’ve even gotten sunburned while driving!). The SPF number refers to the amount of protection provided beyond your skin’s normal defenses. An SPF of 50, for example, provides about 50 times more protection than your normal skin. In general, choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

What is the best type of sunscreen? How do I choose?

· Makeup with added sunscreen: Many moisturizers or makeup bases have sunscreen with SPF 15 built in. This is fine when you’ll be indoors all day but be sure to add additional sunscreen when going outside and to those parts of your body without makeup.

· Broad-spectrum sunscreen: Always choose this type, which offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

· Water-resistant sunscreen: No sunscreen is truly waterproof, but this type is especially designed for use when engaged in water activities.

· Spray sunscreen: This type may be more easily applied, but some experts have expressed concern about possible inhalation of chemicals from the spray. Cream-based sunscreens are generally preferable, as they also offer more reliable coverage.

· GRASE ingredients: The two generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) ingredients in sunscreen are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. In the proposed FDA rule under review, twelve other ingredients have insufficient GRASE safety data currently. Sprays, oils, lotions, creams, gels, butters, pastes, ointments, and sticks are official FDA-sanctioned dosage forms for sunscreens.

How often should sunscreen be applied?

The effectiveness of most sunscreen lasts about two hours. If you’re sweating heavily, in the water, or feel like your skin is getting burned, apply more frequently. Pay special attention to areas of sensitive skin such as hands, tops of feet, lips, eyelids, and ears and reapply often.

Should I use sunscreen on my baby?

Avoid using sunscreen on infants younger than six months, due to potential side effects from the chemicals in sunscreen. Instead, keep them in the shade and dress in lightweight protective clothing. Most sunscreens designed for babies are at least SPF 50 with special ingredients added to prevent the delicate skin of babies from irritation by the chemicals in the sunscreen.

What if I have naturally dark skin?

Don’t assume that if you have darker skin you don’t need sunscreen! The danger is still present, and, in fact, the rates of deadly skin cancer are higher among people who have darker complexions. Adults of all ages and skin colors should use sunscreen with at least SPF 30 when engaged in outdoor activities.

Perhaps the best suggestion about sunscreen is: Make sure it has a smell and feel that you’ll want to use. Dermatologist, Dr. Amy Kassouf, says, “The best products are the ones that actually get used, so it’s important to find something you feel comfortable with and putting it everywhere you will need it.” And be sure to check the expiration date – that giant bottle of sunscreen you bought last summer may no longer be effective. Your Integrity Urgent Care family wants you and your family to have a safe and sunburn-free summer!


Brusie C. Sunscreen: Does SPF matter and which one should I choose? 25 Jul 2018 [accessed 30 Jun 2019]. Mastroianni B. New FDA guidelines on sunscreen: how to best protect your skin this summer. 12 May 2019 [accessed 30 Jun 2019]. US Food & Drug Administration. FDA advances new proposed regulation to make sure that sunscreens are safe and effective. press announcement [online]. 21 Feb 2019 [accessed 30 Jun 2019].

Recent News:

Read Our Reviews