Most dermatologists recommend using sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. “Generally, the amount of protection going from SPF 30 to 50 is about 3 percent more effective—from 95 percent to 97.5 percent,” says surgical oncologist James Lewis, MD, director of the Melanoma and Soft Tissue Tumor Service at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Most people aren’t perfect when applying sunscreen, so it’s better to start with a higher number for extra coverage. “Any SPF less than 30 really doesn’t afford you the level of sun protection that you need,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, and President and Co-Founder of Modern Dermatology. Be sure to avoid these 7 mistakes with sunscreen.
The sun emits several types of ultraviolet light, so it’s important you protect against all of them. “The two most important things to look for on the label are ‘broad spectrum,’ which indicates the sunscreen protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), and the SPF rating, which indicates how well it protects against UVB,” says Sejal Shah, MD, a dermatologist and RealSelf contributor. Most sunblock products include several sunscreens, so look for the words “broad spectrum” to make sure you’ve got a product worth buying. “The FDA has approved 17 different sunscreen filters, all with different wavelengths that they protect,” says Fayne Frey, MD, a dermatologist in West Nyack, New York. “For this reason, the vast majority of sunscreens are formulated with more than one sunscreen filter to cover a broader range of wavelengths. I tell my patients to use broad spectrum. It covers both UVB rays and a significant portion of the UVA spectrum.”
Chemical vs. Physical
Sunscreens are made with either chemical sun blockers or physical ones. Each works differently to do the same thing. “A chemical block is a sunblock with several different chemicals in it,” says Stanley Kovak, MD, a cosmetic physician and owner of Kovak Cosmetic Center outside Chicago. “They work by absorbing UV rays into the tissue, and when ultraviolet rays pass into the skin, they change the rays into a longer wavelength which is less harmful so that it’s not so damaging.” Physical or mineral sunscreens sit on the skin to reflect light away from the skin, he adds. Only two types of physical sunscreens have been FDA-approved—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—and both might be good options for your skin type. “If you have more sensitive skin, a mineral sunscreen may be a better choice because it is less likely to cause skin reactions compared to chemical sunscreens,” Dr. Shah says. But there is a downside: Physical sunscreens tend to leave the skin with a white sheen and are often pricier than chemical versions, Dr. Frey says. A tinted mineral sunscreen is a good option to avoid the ghost-face look. Learn about the new type of chemical sunscreen that won’t seep into your skin.