Choosing the Right Sunscreen for You

It's finally time to have fun in the sun again, hoorah! And with the official start of summer next month, it makes good sense that May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

By now, most everyone knows that UVA and UVB radiation are the cause for most skin cancers and contributes to the photoaging of our skin. While there are heroes like plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and aestheticians that can help with the negative effects of sunlight, we can all help ourselves fight against skin cancer and photoaging with one, easy preventative measure: sunscreen!

Luckily, there are many, many different forms of sunscreen available for many, many different skin types. But, with all these options there can be confusion about which sunscreen is best for you. These are the first 3 factors to look at when selecting a sunscreen:


  1. SPF: Sun Protection Factor

Sunscreen with a higher SPF should offer more protection from the sun's harmful rays. For example: An SPF of 15 blocks 93% of UVB radiation, SPF 30 blocks nearly 97%, and SPF 50% blocks an estimated 98% of UVB rays.

Studies show that SPFs above 50 only have a minimal increase in protection, making wearing an SPF 50 practically the same as wearing an SPF 100. Interesting fact: Regulatory bodies in Europe and Australia have capped the SPF of sunscreen to their consumers at 50. In part, this was done to avoid consumers having an over-confidence in a higher SPF sunscreen and thus not applying it as directed leading to sun damage.

The SPF on a sunscreen mainly refers to only the amount of UVB protection. While you may not be getting a sunburn from UVB rays because of your sunscreen, you could still be getting large amounts of skin-damaging UVA radiation. Which brings me to the next important factor in an effective sunscreen:

  1. Multi-spectrum, Broad Spectrum, UVA/UVB protection

Because SPF refers only to the UVB blocking percentage, you'll want a sunscreen that also offers UVA protection. The ingredients should contain some combination of the following UVA-blocking ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule, and oxybenzone. This is often labeled on the product as multi-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or UVA/UVB protection.

The last factor - synthetic versus mineral - has largely been debated. Some, such as those with ultra-sensitive skin, may not have much of a choice between the two. However, I think it's important to note that either choice is sunscreen and something everyone should be using on the daily.

  1. Synthetic vs Mineral

Synthetic sunscreen: There are over 30 synthetic sunscreen ingredients that are used. Synthetic sunscreen is often referred to as chemical sunscreen, which is incredibly misleading. All skincare ingredients are chemicals - including water.

Pros: Begins to work immediately, is generally found in a products that have a thinner texture, is preferred for water-resistant formulas, and is more likely to have an accurately labeled SPF.

Con: Can be sensitizing for those with extra-sensitive skin.

Mineral sunscreen: There are two mineral sunscreen ingredients: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Mineral sunscreen ingredients are often referred to as being organic, but they are, in fact, not. They are actually inorganic chemicals.

Pros: Begins to work immediately and has almost no risk of irritating skin.

Cons: May leave a white cast on the skin, needs more frequent and liberal applications than a synthetic formula, and studies such as those done by Consumer Reports show that mineral sunscreens are most likely to fail SPF accuracy tests and have a much lower actual SPF rating.


We carry several different types of sunscreen at our Portage office - including OBAGI's Sun-Shield, a tinted face lotion available in cool or warm that has an SPF of 50 and offers a broad spectrum protection.

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