Open Accessibility Menu

10 Tips For Buying a Safe, Effective Sunscreen

10 Tips For Buying a Safe, Effective Sunscreen

Buying safe, effective sunscreen products can protect the skin from damaging UV rays and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Excess sun exposure is one of the top causes of skin cancer. In addition to causing cancer, too much sun can damage your skin and lead to the formation of fine lines, wrinkles, and discoloration.

Wearing sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun. However, buying sunscreen can be difficult, as there are hundreds, if not thousands of products available in stores and online to choose from.

Here are ten tips that can help you choose a safe, effective sunscreen and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center for your family’s summer healthcare needs.

1. Pick a High-Enough SPF

“SPF” stands for sun protection factor. The SPF number on sunscreen refers to the level of protection the sunscreen can provide against UVB rays. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Sunscreens with an SPF of 30 filter out about 97% of the sun’s rays. Sunscreens with a lower SPF of 15 filter out about 93% of UVB rays. However, no sunscreen offers complete protection from the sun, even if the SPF is 100, adds the ACS. Sunscreen with an SPF of 100 filters out about 99% of the sun’s rays.

Higher SPFs offer only slightly more protection than sunscreens with an SPF of 30. Try to avoid buying sunscreen products that are overly costly because they boast a higher SPF, as they may not offer much more protection.

2. Check the Active Ingredients

The active ingredients in sunscreen are meant to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. However, reading the ingredients list on sunscreen products can be overwhelming, as many of the ingredients may be unfamiliar.

According to the FDA, the following active ingredients are acceptable in sunscreens:

  • Aminobenzoic acid
  • Avobenzone
  • Cinoxate
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Meradimate
  • Octocrylene
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Padimate O
  • Ensulizole
  • Sulisobenzone
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Trolamine salicylate
  • Zinc oxide

The FDA adds that some of these ingredients may enter your body after being absorbed through the skin. Therefore, it’s important to know the effects these ingredients can have on your body.

For instance, oxybenzone has been associated with anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Other studies have shown that this ingredient may also cause hormone imbalances, short-term pregnancies, and breast cancer.

Other ingredients to avoid in sunscreen are vitamin A, retinol, and retinyl palmitate. These ingredients have been associated with skin lesions and tumors when used in sunscreen creams and lotions.

Ask your doctor or a pharmacist for help with interpreting ingredients on sunscreen labels. Your doctor can also provide you with more information about their specific effects on the body.

3. Choose a Broad Spectrum SPF

Look for sunscreens labeled as “broad spectrum.” Broad spectrum sunscreens offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays emit radiation that may cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. UVB rays are those that can burn the skin.

The FDA says that all sunscreens that do not offer broad spectrum protection must be labeled with the following warning:

"Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

Keep this in mind when choosing a sunscreen and always choose a brand with broad spectrum labeling.

4. Go With a Formulation You Like

Sunscreens come in many types of formulations. Creams, lotions, sprays, oils, and gels are just a few of many types of sunscreens.

Before settling on a formulation, read the directions to learn more about how that specific formulation works. For example, most spray sunscreens cannot be applied to the face. This means you may need another formulation to protect the skin on your face. Sprays may also blow away when applying them and may not offer the greatest protection.

Sunscreen sticks are less messier than other formulations, and won’t leak when you travel. On the other hand, creams and lotions may be easier to apply nearly everywhere on your body since they can be rubbed in. When in doubt, ask your doctor or a dermatologist about the type of formulation they might recommend based on your activities.

5. Consider Your Daily Activities

Certain sunscreens may be more ideal than others for certain activities. For example, if you plan on spending all your time in the water, you may need a water-resistant sunscreen that can stay on for a long time without washing off.

You may also want to consider the times of the day you’ll be outside. The sun’s rays are often the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Therefore, you may want sunscreen with a higher SPF if you typically spend your time outdoors during these times.

If you only go outside for 15 to 20 minutes a day to take a walk or do yard work, you may only need sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or 30. Always keep your daily activities in mind when choosing the right sunscreen.

6. Mind the Expiration Date

Always check the expiration date before buying or applying sunscreen. Any sunscreen that is past its expiration date may not work well at protecting your skin from the sun. The FDA also states that a sunscreen product without an expiration date should be considered expired three years after you buy it.

Try to avoid buying sunscreen without an expiration date, especially if it has been discontinued or heavily discounted. It can be difficult to tell how old the sunscreen is, and whether it is still effective.

Also, mind the instructions on the sunscreen product and store it at the recommended temperatures. This can help prevent it from losing its efficacy. Many sunscreen products will instruct you to store them away from direct sun and excessive heat.

7. Be Cautious With Sunscreen From Other Countries

All sunscreens sold in the U.S. are regulated as drugs. This is because they claim to reduce the risk of sunburn and/or decrease risks associated with skin cancer and premature aging caused by the sun. In many other countries, sunscreens are regulated as cosmetics and held to different standards.

If you decide to buy sunscreen outside of the U.S., read its label carefully. Make sure it contains the active ingredients needed to keep your skin safe.

8. Consider a Mineral-Based Sunscreen

According to skincare doctors interviewed by the AARP, sunscreens labeled as “mineral” or “physical” may be the safest sunscreens available today. These sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and are recognized by the FDA as safe and effective. Mineral sunscreens work like a shield from the sun to deflect UVA and UVB rays. In comparison, chemical sunscreens act like sponges and absorb UV rays.

Mineral sunscreens also cause fewer skin reactions and may be more ideal for people with sensitive skin. These sunscreens are not absorbed by the skin and are less likely to clog the pores. These sunscreens may also be better for the environment since they lack toxic ingredients that can harm sea organisms and other wildlife.

9. Don’t Buy Combination Sunscreen and Bug Repellent

Avoid buying products that combine sunscreen with bug repellent. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreen loses its ability to block UV rays when it is used with DEET. DEET is the most common type of bug repellent.

A combination of sunscreen and bug repellent products reduces the sunscreen’s SPF by more than 30%. They also enhance the absorption of DEET into the skin to increase toxicity. The product’s ability to repel mosquitoes is also lowered.

If you need to wear both sunscreen and bug repellent, buy these products separately. Apply the bug repellent first if needed, then apply the sunscreen.

10. Consult With Your Skin Care Doctor Or Dermatologist

A dermatologist or doctor who specializes in skin care can help you choose a sunscreen based on your skin type. If you have a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema, your doctor can help you choose a sunscreen with ingredients that won’t worsen your condition. Your doctor can also make sure the active ingredients in sunscreen won’t interact with any of the ingredients in your topical medication.

A skin care doctor may also be the best source of information regarding which ingredients in sunscreen are safe. For instance, if you have skin allergies or sensitivities, your doctor can advise you on which ingredients to avoid. Many times, your skin care doctor can even recommend a top-quality sunscreen brand that won’t compromise your skin health.

Primary Care Services At Lompoc Valley Medical Center

Lompoc Valley Medical Center offers a wide range of healthcare services to serve you and your family, including primary care. Our board-certified physicians can perform an annual exam and check out any skin abnormalities that may be concerning you. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.