Sunscreen Shopping Tips

Featured Article, Skin Center, Sun Protection
on June 1, 2012

Selecting a sunscreen used to be simple: Pick a lotion off the shelf and slather on. But today, there’s an alphabet soup of things to consider—SPF, UVB, UVA—not to mention sprays, sticks, lotions and other formulas. How do you sort through all the claims? Dermatologist Harold A. Lancer, in 20 Years Younger by Bob Greene, shares these tips.

  • Be smart about SPF. Always buy at least SPF 15 sunscreen, which blocks 94 percent of rays. Know that higher SPFs don't necessarily offer you incrementally more protection. For instance, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of rays–it doesn't offer twice the protection. Higher SPF sunscreens may contain more active ingredients so more of them stay on the skin longer, Lancer says, but don't think you can spend more time in the sun without burning, the higher the SPF you wear.
  • Choose products that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. UVBs cause sunburn; UVAs penetrate the dermis and affect your DNA. SPF only relates to UVB rays; look for the words "broad spectrum" to ensure added protection against UVAs, or the active ingredients avobenzone, ecamsul and zinc oxide.
  • Swipe your kid's sunscreen. Children's sunscreens, Lancer says, typically contain everything you need and fewer chemicals that might be irritating to your skin.
  • Buy a formula you will use. Lancer says the brand, ingredients and delivery method (lotion, spray, stick) are important–but most important is choosing one you will use. If you don't like the feel of a formula on your skin, try something else that's more wearable.