During the summer months the sun is not only strongest but we also tend to spend a lot more time outdoors, which makes it even more important to protect ourselves from the harmful rays of the sun with sunscreen. Before choosing a sunscreen, it helps to know a little about them. Sunscreens typically fall into two categories: mineral-based and chemical-based.
Mineral-based sunscreens (also called physical sunscreens or sunblocks) sit on top of the skin and deflect and scatter the sun’s rays. They typically contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and offer excellent protection. These types of sunscreen are broad-spectrum, protecting against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
Chemical-based sunscreens contain organic compounds which protect you by absorbing and altering the ultraviolet waves of the sun. These sunscreens usually contain one or more of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene and avobenzone. In addition, there are some sunscreens that utilize a mixture of mineral-based and chemical-based ingredients. The pros and cons of each different type of sunscreen are outlined below.
- Broad-spectrum, offering protection against both UVA and UVB rays
- Starts protecting from the sun as soon as it is applied to skin
- Less likely to cause a stinging sensation on the skin when applied
- Lasts longer when in direct UV light
- Less likely to clog pores, making it better for blemish-prone skin
- May need more frequent application as it can rub and sweat off more easily.
- Some brands leave a whitish, chalky appearance to the skin
- Needs to be applied generously since UV light can get between the sunscreen molecules if not applied correctly
- Can feel greasy
- Tends to be thinner and easier to spread on skin
- Lighter, “cleaner” feel
- Most offer broad-spectrum protection
- Easier to add additional ingredients which can benefit your skin
- Requires about 20 minutes after application for it to work
- Increased chance of skin irritation and stinging
- Greater chance of causing redness in those with rosacea
- May clog pores in those who have oily skin
- Can cause an increase in existing brown spots and discoloration since it increases skin temperature
Although both types of sunscreens have their pluses and minuses, the best sunscreen is really the one that you will wear consistently when you are outdoors. “I want my patients to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen every time they go outside,” remarked Helen Page, a Physician Assistant in Dermatology at Reliant Medical Group. “The benefits of reducing aging of the skin and preventing skin cancer are just too great not to use a sunscreen.”
What’s the best SPF to use?
Most dermatologists recommend an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 for extended time in the sun. An SPF of 15 is fine for shorter, more incidental exposure. Remember that higher SPFs just give slightly more protection. It’s important to reapply a sunscreen approximately every two hours. Applying a sunscreen in the morning at the beach will not give you protection in the afternoon.
Keep in mind that individuals who have darker skin and rarely burn should also use a sunscreen to protect against DNA damage and aging of the skin. If you have children who are under six months of age they should be physically protected from the sun instead of using sunscreen. Their skin is too sensitive for many sunscreen products. If you have an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, keep trying different brands. Often it is the fragrance or preservatives in the sunscreen that cause the problem, not the active ingredients.
And remember, summer isn’t the only time you should wear sunscreen. You need protection from the sun’s damaging rays all year long when you are spending time outdoors.
Examples of Different Sunscreen Types:
- Beauty by Earth – Mineral Sunscreen SPF 25
- Coppertone – Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
- Neutrogena – Pure & Free™ Liquid Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50
- Babyganics – Mineral-Based Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
- True Natural – All Natural Sunscreen, Neutral for Sensitive Skin, SPF 50
- Neutrogena – Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 30
- Hawaiian Tropic – Silk Hydration Weightless Sunscreen SPF 30
- Aveeno Active Naturals – Protect & Hydrate SPF 30
- Coppertone Kids – Continuous Spray SPF 50
- CVS Health – Ultra Protective Sun Lotion SPF 30
Mineral-based and Chemical-based:
Coppertone Kids – Tear Free SPF 50
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Thanks for the very useful information. I am now nore educated on the sun screens and their pros and cons. Really really appreciated and I am sure that thousands of users like me were completely ignorant about the sun screen products in general. Thanks for helping us out.
Does sunscreen have an expiration date?
Hi Eleanor, sunscreen does lose its effectiveness over time. The bottle should be stamped with an expiration date.