Dermatologists Dish: How to Select the Best Sunscreen

Article posted in: Lifestyle

Sunscreen. Who needs it? When should you wear it? What’s the best kind? All good questions. And important questions, as sunscreen is one of the best defenses against skin cancer, a disease that an estimated one in five Americans will develop in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AADA).

Everyone, regardless of age, gender or race is at risk of getting skin cancer and the AADA recommends that people of all ages—except children under six months of age—wear sunscreen. It should be applied every time you’ll be outside, whether it’s sunny or cloudy—even when you’re out in the snow.

Choosing the “best” sunscreen can be a daunting task, especially when there are literally dozens of options in stores. So, we asked Cosmetic Dermatology and Anti-Aging Physician Lori Gerber, D.O. to tell us what to look for on the label.

Here is what Lori has to say about selecting the best sunscreen:

1. The Palm: What’s the biggest mistake people make when buying sunscreen?

Dr. Gerber: They choose a sunscreen with the highest SPF (Sun Protection Factor) thinking it’s best. In reality, sunscreen with an SPF of 30 has 98 percent protection and anything above that is only two percent better at most. It’s much more important to read the ingredients in sunscreen and choose one with a longer duration of protection and one that says “broad spectrum.”

2. The Palm: What exactly does “broad spectrum” mean?

Dr. Gerber: “Broad spectrum” means that the sunscreen protects against UVA, which are aging and skin cancer-causing rays, and UVB, the burning rays. You want to buy a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.

3. The Palm: Waterproof vs. water-resistant, aerosol vs. lotion—what’s best?

Dr. Gerber: Sunscreen manufacturers can no longer state that sunscreen is “waterproof.” Now, you’ll only find “water-resistant” sunscreen and the label must indicate when you’ll need to reapply. As far as aerosol sprays versus lotions, the actual mechanism of application doesn’t matter. It’s more important to apply liberally before sun exposure and to reapply.

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4. The Palm: So how often should sunscreen be reapplied?

Dr. Gerber: Every sunscreen has a different length of active coverage so follow the directions on the label. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends reapplying about every two hours, or as indicated. Don’t forget your ears and lips.

5. The Palm: Why is it important to apply sunscreen before going outside?

Dr. Gerber: Any combination sunscreen, with chemicals such as avobenzone or oxybenzone, should be applied 15-30 minutes before sun exposure because the chemicals need time to soak into the skin in order to effectively absorb the sun’s rays. Zinc- and titanium oxide-based sunscreens, without other chemical ingredients, reflect light and can be put on just before or during sun exposure. These sunscreens are perfect for the face and are the best defense against aging besides limiting time in the sun and wearing a broad-rimmed hat.

6. The Palm: Is a more expensive sunscreen a better one?

Dr. Gerber: There are some terrific generic sunscreens that offer 30+SPF, broad- spectrum coverage. And there are some cheaper, name-brand sunscreens that don’t have sunscreen extenders like avobenzone, oxybenzone (helioplex) and encamsule (mexoryl) to extend the UVA coverage of sunscreen to protect against cancer and aging rays. Just read the label before buying and make sure to check the expiration date, as the chemicals in sunscreen do lose potency.