Sunscreen Buying Guide: How Do I Choose The Best Sunscreen?

Confused about sunscreen?
Use this sunscreen buying guide to decipher sunscreen labels and to answer those burning questions, so you don't get burned!

What is SPF (Sun Protection Factor)?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, or “the level of sunburn protection provided by the sunscreen product.” The SPF test measures the amount of ultraviolet, or UV, exposure it takes to cause a sunburn while a person is wearing a certain sunscreen, compared to the amount of UV radiation it takes to burn while a person is wearing no sunscreen at all. The higher the number, the greater level of sunburn protection.
Note: A higher SPF does NOT extend the amount of time you can stay out in the sun, nor does it indicate how effective a sunscreen might be at protecting you against skin cancer. SPF refers only to the UVB (the rays responsible for sunburns) protection factor, not UVA.

Does it say “Broad-spectrum” (or UVA/UVB) protection?

If not, don't buy it. Don’t waste your time (or money) on sunscreen that doesn’t have broad-spectrum protection.
If so, then what the heck does that mean? While SPF only indicates the UVB protection, broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are the pesky rays responsible for tanning and skin aging. Both types of UV radiation have been linked to cancer, however, so if you want to ensure maximum protection, choose a sunscreen that’s clearly marked “broad-spectrum.”

    What are the active ingredients in the sunscreen?

    The active ingredients in a sunscreen are those responsible for actually providing sun protection—but some are better than others. If the active ingredients in your sunscreen include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octinoxate, or PABA, you may want to reconsider that sunscreen! Many of those additives penetrate the skin and are suspected hormone disruptors and some may also contribute to ecological issues.
    Instead, seek out sunscreens with active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide--or both! These active ingredients are all natural, and proven safe for your skin and for the environment.

      Is the sunscreen waterproof, water-repellant, or water-resistant?

      If a sunscreen claims to be waterproof, it isn't!
      If a sunscreen claims to be waterproof, or water-repellant, it's safe to assume the product is actually water-resistant, which means you’ll want to reapply every 80 minutes (or immediately after toweling off) if you’re swimming or sweating. Always reapply your sunscreen!


        Does the Skin Cancer Foundation "recommended" seal mean a 'Better Sunscreen'?

        Pay more attention to what’s in the sunscreen than what’s stamped on the bottle. Some sunscreens may be stamped with the Skin Cancer Foundation “recommended” seal. The brands donning the seal pay $10,000, or more, to use the seal on their packaging. The seal ultimately indicates that the sunscreen will protect you against UV radiation, which other quality sunscreens provide, without having paid for the seal.

          Does sunscreen expire?

          Sunscreen should bear an expiration date somewhere on the packaging. If it doesn’t, use your senses to determine if the sunscreen looks, smells, or feels a little strange. Expired sunscreen might not only contain bacteria, it may also have broken down in terms of the effectiveness of the active ingredients. If your sunscreen is, or is suspected to be, expired, it’s best to part with it.


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