6 Things To Look For When Buying Sunscreen

Wearing sunscreen is the best thing you can do for your skin. It protects it from cancer, and it helps to avoid UV damage that can cause sun spots and premature wrinkles, thus allowing you to age gracefully and look younger for longer.

All the anti-aging products on the market can only do so little if you forget to use sunscreen, and one of my biggest regrets is having included it in my skincare routine only in my middle 20s. Now, though, you’ll never find me without it. I wear it 365 days a year, even indoors! I’m not taking any chances! :)

But, with all the many options on the market, shopping for sunscreen can be daunting and confusing. Fret not. Here’s what you need to know before buying one:

1. Broad-spectrum protection

How many times have you reached for the sunscreen with the highest SPF available on the shelf, thinking that was sure to offer you all the protection you needed? Sadly, that’s not always the case. SPF rates only the degree of protection from UVB rays. So, even a SPF50 may still provide little or no protection against UVA rays, the type that causes premature aging and contributes to the development of cancer. Scary, isn’t it?

Instead than relying only on the SPF number, make sure you check out the label to see if it includes any of the following UVA filters: Avobenzone, Zinc Oxide, Mexoryl XS (aka Ecamsule), Tinosorb S (bemotrizinol) and Titanium Dioxide (offers only partial protection, so should be used with another of the ingredients mentioned here). If neither of these appear on the label, leave it on the shelf.

If remembering all these names is hard for you, just look for the UV seal (mostly used in Europe), or the PA (complete with plus signs) symbol (mostly used in Asia), on the label. US sunscreens that contain adequate protection from UV rays must simply be labelled “broad spectrum”.

2. SPF 15 or higher

Dermatologists recommend you use a SPF of at least 15 daily to protect your skin from UV rays. But, especially when the sun’s shining brightly in the sky and you’re gonna spend a lot of time outdoors, it can’t hurt to go a bit higher. You don’t need SPF 100 though. It doesn’t offer that much more protection than SPF 30, and can even create a false of security, making you think you won’t need to slather it on liberally and reapply it often. But, of course, you do.

sunumbra sunscreen 30+

3. Water-resistant

If you sweat a lot, plan to play sports outside or go swimming in the sea, choose a water-resistant sunscreen. But don’t think that means the sunscreen will never wear off. Water-resistant simply means that the SPF level stays effective after either 40 or 80 minutes (check the label to be sure) in the water. After that, you’ll still have to reapply it.

4. Avoid spray-on formulas

Spray-on sunscreens are very convenient and can provide adequate protection if you apply enough. Problem is, that’s difficult to do. If you’re not careful, the sunscreen may end up on your towel rather than your leg, or, if there’s even a light breeze, be carried away and land on your neighbour. That doesn’t just leave parts of your skin unprotected, but it is also a waste of money.

5. Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin that’s prone to allergies and irritations, or are looking for a sunscreen for your child, opt for a zinc oxide based one. Zinc Oxide can, on its own, provide broad spectrum protection, and is very gentle on the skin. Also, pick one without alcohol, fragrance, or harsh preservatives. My favourite sunscreen for sensitive skin and children, which meet all these criteria, are Sunumbra Sunkids SPF 40 and Badger Balm Kids Sunscreen Cream SPF30.

6. Expensive doesn’t mean better

It’s not the price, but the active sunscreen agents and how liberally they are applied, that determines the effectiveness of a sunscreen. Because they must be slathered on generously, if you are on a budget, you may want to opt for a cheap product that fulfils all the requirements listed above.

Do you look for all these things when buying sunscreen? What is your favourite sunscreen?

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  1. says

    Another informative post from you, Gio! I try to stick with physical barrier sunscreens when possible, but they are thick. Face care is more of a dilemma. During the day, I wear moisturizer with SPF and a CC cream with SPF on top of that. I am hoping that it’s enough coverage. What do you wear on your face, Gio?
    Allison´s last blog post ..Milani Brilliant Shine LipglossMy Profile

    • Gio says

      Allison, I love physical sunscreens, but they can be very thick indeed. Unfortunately, makeup and moisturizers with SPF don’t provide enough protection, unless you apply several layers, which no one does. I guess that if it is a cloudy, rainy day, and you’re barely spending any time outdoors, they may just do, but they’re not substitutes for sunscreen. However, they’re always better than nothing.

      I’m using Sunumbra Sunkids SPF 40, which feels lightweight on and sinks in quickly. It can feel a bit tight on dry skin, though, but you can easily fix that by applying moisturizer beforehand.

    • Gio says

      Trisha, I love how convenient spray sunscreens are, but I’ve always been hesitant to use them because I’m always scared I’ll miss some spots. But if you can apply them properly, then great. I had never thought about applying them on the head. Great tip! :)

  2. Leire says

    I have sun sensitivity and I have tried a lot of spf creams before I started to know a bit or two about cosmetic formulation. Dermatologists usually recommended me La Roche Posay products, but they wore off my skin very easily, I had a couple of burns because of that. Then I started to use Avene very high protection lotion for children with spf50, and it’s way better. It holds for a long time, it has good filters and no perfume. It’s my favorite since a couple of years ago.
    Thank you for your post, it’s very interesting although I don’t know if the brands you mention are available in Spain.

    • Gio says

      Leire, I’m sorry La Roche Posay sunscreens didn’t work for you. I think they are good, but the active ingredients are synthetic and they tend to fade faster than minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are used in the avene sunscreens. That’s a wonderful product, and I’m glad it works so well for you. :)

  3. Regn says

    Thank you so much for writing this! Today, I bought a cheap sunscreen for kids (water resistant, SPF 50) since I remembered you mentioning that cheap doesn’t always mean that it’s useless. Also, I’ve been so sick of my La Roche Posay sunscreen because it flakes terribly, then gets everywhere on my clothes and it was so expensive!

    So I checked every ingredient in this new cheap one and it contains Octocrylene, Titanium Dioxide, Avobenzone and Ethylhexyl salicylate. It also contains Iscotrizinol, which isn’t mentioned above, but I found that it should absorb UVA and UVB radiation. So protection-wise, I guess I should be safe. I just hope it won’t mess up my clothes like the previous one. A nicer formula would also make reapplying much easier. :)

    • Gio says

      Regn, you’re welcome. Judging by the ingredients, it’s a good formula that provides broad spectrum protection. Yep, Iscotrizinol can protect against UVA rays, but it’s not widely used, and in the US hasn’t been approved yet, which is why I tend to forget it. 😳 Thanks for reminding us of it. :)

      I hope the texture will work for you too, and that it won’t mess up your clothes. It’s so annoying when that happens!

      • Regn says

        I have one more question. I know that BB creams don’t provide enough protection from the sun. This means that I should apply sunscreen under it. But how can I know that a BB cream won’t degrade my proper sunscreen? I’ve just read that it’s best to use make-up products without any SPF after using sunscreen. However, I find it really impossible nowadays since almost every foundation contains some SPF! All make-up brands go crazy with SPF, but it’s so useless if there’s a chance of degrading the real sunscreen we should use every day.

        I’m sorry if you already wrote a post about this and I’m asking here. Thanks so much for your help!

        • Gio says

          Regn, that’s odd. Usually experts recommend the opposite, to apply powders, and other products, with SPF for added protection. Although you can’t add SPF (SPF 30 + SPF 15 will give you the protection of SPF 30, not 45), that helps to make sure that all areas of the skin are covered, and that no spot is missed.

          The article you read probably referred to sunscreens containing avobenzone. Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide (which are often used in foundations, BB Creams, powders etc) and Octinoxate can degrade this ingredient. However, there are plenty of sunscreens that use avobenzone with them. In these, Titanium and Zinc are usually coated, as that seems to fix these issues. These ingredients are often microencapsulated in cosmetics with SPF as well, so again this shouldn’t be an issue. But if you’re still worried about it, just avoid this combination, or reapply sunscreen more often.

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