Ah, the scent of sunscreen. For most of us, it conjures images of carefree summers and tropical vacations. We all know that sunscreen is essential to protect tender bare skin from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, both of which can cause skin cancer and skin aging. But with so many competing products to choose from, how do you know which one is the most effective and safe to use?
The first thing to know is that there are two types of skin protection – physical sunscreen, and chemical sunscreen. Physical sunscreens, made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, sit on your skin and block the sun’s UV rays. They are less likely to cause allergic reactions since the chemicals are not absorbed through skin contact. Chemical sunscreens on the other hand, prevent sun damage by absorbing UV rays before they reach your skin, and contain chemicals like oxybenzone which can be absorbed into the skin.
Both types of sunscreen contain active ingredients that break down when exposed to UV light, eventually losing their protective qualities and generating skin-damaging free radicals. The key is to apply sunscreen properly, using about two tablespoons to cover an adult’s entire body and reapplying every two to three hours. Topping up not only renews UV protection, but also reduces the formation of free radicals.
When shopping for sunscreen, look for products with the highest proportion of antioxidants such as Vitamin E (Vitamin E acetate) or Vitamin C (sodium ascorbyl phosphate). Antioxidants can counter free radical formation. And experts agree that SPF 30 sunscreens strike the right balance, offering enough protection while limiting the temptation to stay too long in the sun. However, SPF only rates how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays. To protect against UVA rays, choose a multi-spectrum sunscreen that includes at least one of the following ingredients: ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide.
To get you started, here are some of our favorite products:
Whichever sunscreen you choose, remember that any sunscreen is better than none. For the Skin Cancer Foundation’s guidelines on sunscreen, visit http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/prevention-guidelines