Which Sunscreen Should You Use?

Health complications related to sun exposure, such as skin cancer, melanoma, and premature aging, have become a major concern. As a result, the market has seen a significant increase in sunscreen products, making it difficult to choose the most appropriate. Luckily, professional dermatologists and skin care experts have made it their duty to enlighten consumers on what to look for in sunscreens.

Additionally, sunscreen products are classified under drugs since they help prevent life-threatening problems like skin cancer. As a result, they are regulated by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to ensure they are correctly labeled. But how do you choose a sunscreen product?

Understanding how sunscreen products work is vital to getting an answer to this question. Keep reading for more insight:

Understanding Sun Exposure

The sun produces a mixture of UV rays, including UV-A, UV-C, and UV-B radiation. UV-C forms the shortest and the most disastrous wave, followed by UV-B and UV-A radiation. Luckily, UV-C is blocked by the earth’s Ozone layer, meaning they don’t reach the earth’s surface. On the other hand, UV-B radiation is absorbed by the uppermost skin layer, the epidermis, while UV-A penetrates the dermis.

For this reason, sunscreen product labels must indicate the sun protection factor (SPF) and state if they have passed the broad spectrum test against UV-A radiation.

What is SPF?

The sun protection factor measures how much UV-B radiation a sunscreen product can block. Most sunscreen products range between SPF15 and SPF50, with 15 being the lowest and 50 the maximum protection. However, dermatologists and skin care experts recommend a sunscreen ranging from SPF30 or more, especially when one is going outdoors.

However, no sunscreen can provide 100% sun protection, nor is there a waterproof sunscreen. Therefore, it is wrong to imagine that exposure to direct sun radiation with a high-SPF sunscreen is safe. It is worth knowing that most sunscreen products can block UV-B radiation for a maximum of two hours, meaning you must keep reapplying sunscreen if you intend to spend long hours outdoors.

What is a broad spectrum?

In addition to SPF, sunscreen products must indicate if they have passed the broad spectrum test against UV-A radiation. This is because, while UV-B radiation shows signs of sunburn, UV-A penetrates the underlying skin, the dermis, damaging the skin cells and causing premature skin aging.

As a result, the Sunscreen Innovation Act rules that sunscreen labeling must indicate whether a product is a full spectrum. If a sunscreen is not full spectrum, it can only block UV-B radiation but can’t prevent skin cancer or wrinkles.

Choosing an Appropriate Sunscreen

Having understood what SPF is and the broad spectrum, it is obvious that a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF is the most appropriate. However, there are other factors to look into when choosing sunscreen products. Including:

Skin type

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, ensure your sunscreen is labeled ‘non-comedogenic,’ which blocks the skin pores. For dry skin, purchase sunscreen with hydrating ingredients to moisten your skin. On the other hand, considering mineral sunscreen is prudent if you have sensitive skin.

Most people mistakenly believe that dark skin is protected from UV radiation’s effects. But dark skin absorbs a lot of UV-B radiation since they do not show signs of sun exposure like light skin. If exposed to intense UV-B rays for extensive hours, the epidermis is damaged, thus posing the risk of skin cancer.


With more sunscreen brands in the market, it is worth worrying about the quality of products you put on your skin. First, check if the ingredients used are toxic to your skin or environment before purchasing. Second, consider how long the sunscreen can protect you from the UV radiation effects.

However, avoid using sunscreen products on infants below six months, regardless of the quality or brand. This is because infant skin is highly sensitive and can be damaged by some of the chemicals used in sunscreen. In the case of toddlers, avoid spraying sunscreen and use sunscreen cream or lotion. The risk of using spray sunscreen is that toddlers may inhale the sunscreen posing another health risk.


You have two options when shopping for sunscreen products: chemical-based and mineral-based sunscreens. Although they serve the same purpose, some consumers will always prefer one. For example, studies have shown that all-natural sunscreens, such as olive or coconut, are more effective than chemical-based products. This is because olive and coconut have a natural SPF of 8, meaning sunscreens that use them as their base ingredient have a better natural SPF foundation.

Low vs. high SPF

As stated earlier, all sunscreens’ SPF ranges between SPF15 and SPF50. However, consumer reports have shown that most sunscreens do not work as advertised. According to most consumers, the sunscreen protection factor is always below the one indicated on the label. It is, therefore, prudent to go for a higher SPF regardless of the expected solar exposure.

How often should I wear sunscreen? 

Although sun exposure is high when the weather heats up, you are at risk of UV-related risks all year round. For example, when the sun’s rays hit a surface (snow, metal, water, etc.), they reflect onto your skin, increasing the risk of exposure. On the other hand, the sun’s rays can penetrate up to one meter below the water’s surface, meaning you are exposed even when underwater.

UV rays can penetrate your house or car window glass and still hit your skin. And that’s not all; you are exposed to UV radiation during cloudy weather or when sitting under artificial shades such as umbrellas. For this reason, dermatologists and skin care experts recommend sunscreen all year round.

How to lower the risk of sun exposure?

In addition to wearing sunscreen, wearing protective attire, hats, and sunglasses can lower the risk of sun exposure. Besides, it would be best if you considered taking breaks in a shade when having a planned sun exposure. For infants and toddlers, always keep them adequately clothed and covered under an umbrella.

Also, some medications like contraceptives and antibiotics can make your skin sensitive, thus increasing the risk of sunburn. It is, therefore, recommended to consult with a doctor regarding medication side effects.

While this guide is informative enough to help you select the most appropriate sunscreen, it is prudent to consult a skin care expert, especially when you doubt your product choice.

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