How to Choose the Right Sunscreen for Your Skin

You are wearing sunscreen every day, right? RIGHT?

By Alana Mitchell July 25, 2017

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Image: Shutterstock

Sunscreen is not just a skin saver—it’s a lifesaver. I can’t stress enough how important it is to apply sunscreen daily to prevent skin cancer. Unfortunately, research shows that not enough people do.

According to a 2013 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women reported that they regularly use sunscreen on both their face and other exposed skin. Aside from skin cancer prevention, sunscreen helps your skin stay looking younger for longer. 

According to another 2013 study, people who applied sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day were 24 percent less likely to show increased aging than those who didn’t apply sunscreen regularly. A sunscreen with a SPF between 15 and 50 is recommended by most medical professionals and organizations. Anything less or more hasn’t been proven to effectively absorb or deflect harmful rays. Personally, I prefer and recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for daily use.

Now, while I absolutely believe in applying sunscreen daily, I know there are plenty of us out there who have experienced a bad sunburn or two. While this may seem all too common—and therefore harmless—it’s important to educate yourself on the danger of sunburns. Experiencing more than five serious sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 increases your risk of melanoma by 80 percent and of non-melanoma skin cancer by 68 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Scary stuff!

There are two types of sunscreen. Those comprised of organic chemicals, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are often a thicker consistency than typical sunscreens and are incredibly safe and effective. Both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide help reflect harmful UVA and UVB rays.  

In contrast, avobenzone and oxybenzone (inorganic chemicals found in many popular brands of sunscreen) absorb the UVA and UVB rays. This causes the ingredients to break down and release heat, which protects your skin from sun damage and sunburns.

Did you know that how you apply sunscreen is also critical to achieving maximum protection? Typically people apply their sunscreen from the center of the face outwards, rather than working inwards. Many cases of skin cancer and sun damage spots can be seen along the hairline and sides of the face because they were missed during sunscreen application. 

Choosing the right sunscreen for your skin needs is about more than just spf—especially if you want a daily skincare option that will do more than just block harmful rays. Mineral sunscreens in particular have proven to effectively reduce inflammation, which can minimize the appearance of acne and reduce symptoms of rosacea. Sun damage protection, skin cancer prevention, and anti-inflammation—talk about a win-win! There are also plenty of two-in-one formulas that harness the power of antioxidants and peptides to block the sun’s harmful rays and repair existing damage. My personal favorite is the tinted anti-aging sunscreen by Rejuve

Sensitive skin

If your skin is reactive and on the sensitive side, you may want to choose a sunscreen that’s hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. Look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredient. If you have skin irritation or allergies, avoid sunscreens with alcohol, fragrances, or preservatives.

Acne-prone skin

Avoid heavy, greasy sunscreens—gel formulas usually contain alcohol, which can benefit skin that’s prone to breakouts. You can also try using a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. These sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed, so your skin is less likely to react poorly to it.

For the little ones

Though spray-on sunscreens are popular and convenient, they’re not the best option for children, as they typically have sensitive skin. I recommend lotion or cream sunscreens with—you guessed it—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.These are better tolerated and can usually be found in sunscreens for babies and children.

For everyone

When in doubt, the Skin Cancer Foundation offers a seal of recommendation for a variety of sunscreens that meet specific criteria for effective UV sun protection. The program covers many categories of sun protection, each with its own specific standards. Sunscreens may be granted the Daily Use or Active Seal, while all other sun protection products may be granted the Traditional Seal.

Be on the lookout for this next time you go shopping, and make sure your skin is safe as you enjoy the rest of the summer.

Alana Mitchell is a beauty and skincare expert, a licensed esthetician and the owner of Skincare by Alana.

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