Tips for Picking the Best Sunscreen

Alexandra Thompson
Alexandra Thompson23 Aug 2022

As summer is quickly approaching, many of us are starting to gather summertime necessities. Whether you're planning to spend extra time at the beach with friends or run around your neighborhood, having good sunscreen for your face and body is essential to a happy, healthy summer. When choosing your go-to sunscreen, you should look for a product that works with your skin type, has an SPF above 15, and is labeled broad-spectrum protection.   

What are key tips when buying sunscreen?

Sunscreen works to lower your overall exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light and decrease your risk of skin cancer. There are two main types of UV radiation: Ultraviolet A (UVA), which causes skin aging, and Ultraviolet B (UVB), which is associated with skin burning or sunburn. With UVA and UVB, it's important to note that different surfaces like sand and water can intensify overall exposure.

Spending time outside is highly beneficial for increasing vitamin D, energy, and serotonin levels while keeping you calm, positive, and focused. Unfortunately, being in the sun without proper protection can harm your health. However, with everyday sunscreen usage, you can protect your skin and still reap the benefits of sunlight exposure.  

There are hundreds of sunscreen products on the market with varying SPF levels and added skincare benefits. Nevertheless, finding the right product can be overwhelming. Below are the key things to consider and look for in your sunscreen options: 

  • Broad-Spectrum (UVA and UVB Protection)
  • Fragrance-Free
  • Non-Comedogenic (doesn't clog pores)
  • Oil-free
  • Paraben-free
  • SPF of at least 15 or higher

What should I know about SPF? 

SPF or sun protection factor measures the protection against sunburn or UVB rays. Each sunscreen – no matter the brand or type — will have an SPF number on the bottle and packaging. The SPF number essentially tells you how long it will take the UVB rays to burn your skin. For example, if you have sunscreen with an SPF of 30, it should take about 30 times longer for you to get burned than if you didn't use sunscreen. It's important to note that SPF is only directed at UVB and will not protect against UVA. For dual protection, you should look for a product labeled as a broad-spectrum sunscreen.  

Although a higher SPF will only slightly increase your protection from UV rays, the minimum SPF you should be wearing is 15. Below are a few additional recommendations by the American Academy of Dermatology and Skin Cancer Foundation: 

  • SPF 15 daily and SPF 30 or higher if you are planning to be in the sun (Skin Cancer Foundation)
  • SPF 30 or higher for optimal skin cancer protection (American Academy of Dermatology)

What are the benefits of sunscreen?

As previously mentioned, sunscreen is crucial to maintaining healthy skin and improving its overall appearance. Adding sunscreen to your daily skincare routine reduces broad sun exposure and damage, especially on sensitive skin, and renders numerous health and beauty benefits. 

Keeps Complexion Even  

In addition to reducing sun damage, daily sunscreen can help keep your skin tone and complexion even by reducing dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Furthermore, daily sunscreen can help prevent additional spots from forming. 

Helps Protect Against Visible Signs of Aging  

Unprotected and sun overexposure can increase the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines on the face, neck, and back of the hands. Applying sunscreen daily can reduce the appearance of aging effects and help prevent new wrinkles from developing. 

Reduce Risk of Cancer  

Sunscreen works exceptionally well in helping reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, especially melanoma. Melanoma can be life-threatening and specifically prevalent in women in their 20s. However, with daily sunscreen application, you can build up cumulative protection to reduce the likelihood of developing skin cancer.  

Promote Overall Health Skin   

In addition to the direct benefits of sunscreen, daily application leads to healthier skin by protecting necessary proteins, such as keratin, that are responsible for keeping the skin smooth and healthy. 

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What types of sunscreens are there?

Although all sunscreens have the same goal of protecting against UV rays (UVA, UVB, or both), there are two main types of sunscreen that have different radiation-reflecting ingredients: 

  • Chemical Sunscreens act like an external sponge that absorbs UV rays, converts them into heat, and releases them from the body. Common active ingredients in chemical sunscreens are avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone.
  • Physical Sunscreens or commonly known as mineral sunscreens, work as a shield that reflects UV rays off the skin. Common ingredients in mineral sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.  

Pros and Cons of Chemical and Mineral Sunscreen 

Type of Sunscreen Pros Cons
  • Protection against UVA and UVB
  • No wait time to take effect
  • Last longer than chemical sunscreen
  • Best for sensitive skin; little to no irritation
  • Best for skin prone to rosacea or redness
  • Suitable for blemish-prone skin
  • Easily removed by rubbing and sweat
  • Needs repeated application
  • Can leave a white cast or coating on the skin
  • Increase sweating during exercise
  • UV light can easily break through the barrier
  • Thinner and easier to spread on the skin
  • Smaller amount is needed for application
  • Easy to incorporate with other skincare products
  • Requires 10-15 minute waiting period to be effective
  • Can cause irritation or stinging
  • Higher SPF increases irritation
  • Can clog pores

Source: Piedmont.org 

List of Best Sunscreens   

We've compiled a list of the best sunscreens on the market based on key search categories. 

Best Water-Resistant Sunscreen:    

  1. Aveeno Protect and Hydrate Sunscreen, SPF 60  
  2. Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 PA++++ 
  3. Sun Bum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70  
  4. Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+  
  5. Neutrogena Ultimate Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70 

Best Sunscreen for Darker Skin Tones:   

  1. Black Girl Sunscreen Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30  
  2. Elta MD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 46  
  3. Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum  
  4. Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+ 
  5. Clinique Sun SPF 50 Face Cream 

Best Chemical Sunscreen:  

  1. Cetaphil Daily Oil free Facial Moisturizer with SPF 35
  2. La Roche- Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen SPF 60  
  3. Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 PA+++ 
  4. Coola Classic Face Organic Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30  
  5. Shiseido Ultimate Sun protection Lotion WetForce Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50+

Best Mineral Sunscreen:   

  1. Versed Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen 
  2. Banana Boat Sport Mineral  
  3. Supergoop! Mineral Matte Screen SPF 40  
  4. Neutrogena Sheer Zinc SPF 50  
  5. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral SPF 30 Moisturizer Hyaluronic Acid 
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Sunscreen and Sun Protection FAQ(s) 

Below are some commonly asked questions about sunscreen products, applications, and other things to consider when looking for a new sunscreen. 

Should I wear sunscreen every day? 

Even if you're not planning a day outside or extended time in the sun, many people don't realize that daily commute can contribute to sun damage that can add up over the years. Additionally, more time outside only intensifies the effects of UV and speeds up long-term damage. Wearing sunscreen daily, especially on your face and back of your hands, is an excellent way to protect and reduce long-term UV damage. 

What's the best way to apply and wear sunscreen?   

No matter the type of sunscreen, some form of protection is better than nothing at all. However, the proper application can increase the overall benefits. Here are some key types when applying sunscreen

  • Always choose a product that is broad-spectrum
  • Apply it about 30 minutes before going outside to give the product time to absorb
  • Ensure you're using enough product — about a quarter-size dollop for your face
  • If you apply make-up on top of sunscreen, layer on top of moisturizer and under primer. Before applying primer, allow the sunscreen to set for about 10 minutes
  • If you are swimming or sweating, make sure to reapply and use a water-resistant product

Should I still wear sunscreen if I have darker skin?  

If you have darker skin, you already have some additional protection from UV rays, as those with darker skin tones do not get sunburn as quickly. However, this does not mean you won't experience damage from unprotected exposure, as sun damage could end up as hyperpigmentation. Additionally, you can still develop skin cancer, which on darker skin is often diagnosed at a later stage. Nevertheless, wearing sunscreen daily is equally important, regardless of skin tone.  

Are there other ways to protect against UV rays?  

Wearing daily sunscreen is the best way to block UV rays. However, there are other ways to protect your skin without sunscreen and even increase your protection:

  • Wearing brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing (when in the sun)
  • Use an umbrella when outside
  • Stay in the shade during peak temperatures
  • Wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB
  • Keep track of the UV index – measure how intense UV radiation is each day

Bottom Line  

As temperatures rise, we are all spending more time outside, and should therefore be protecting our skin. Your health is essential to a happy and healthy summer. Finding the right sunscreen for your skin type and incorporating it into your everyday skincare routine will reduce the risk for skin cancer, sunburn, and sun damage. Additionally, it can improve your complexion, and slow down signs of aging.  

It's important to note that figuring out which sunscreen works best for your skin can be trial and error, based on your daily activities and skin types. To find the best option for your skin without the hassle of buying multiple products, you should seek out advice and recommendations from your dermatologist. Establishing a go-to dermatologist can also give you peace of mind if you develop sun spots or skin damage. For as low as $45 per month, a Mira membership gives you access to affordable care consultations and services and discounted prescriptions and laboratory services. Learn more about Mira today!

Alexandra Thompson

Originally from Houston, Texas, Alexandra is currently getting her Master's in Public Health with a health policy certificate at Columbia University. One of her life goals is to own her own art gallery!