How to Select the Best Sunscreen

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Gone are the days of just running into the grocery store to pick up a tube of sunscreen before the beach. With skeptical chemicals ingredients and changing regulations, sunscreen shopping can be a challenge. But we’re here to help.

Selecting sunscreen might be a little easier this summer thanks to new sunscreen regulations implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All SPF products that do not pass the new FDA testing requirements will include warning labels stating their sun-protection limitations. Even makeup and skin-care products that contain SPF will be upheld to the new label policies.

“Sunscreen has always been an important tool in the fight against skin cancer, and these new regulations will greatly improve the consumer’s ability to make smart decisions— at a glance—about a product’s effectiveness simply by reading the label,” says High Point, NC, dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos. “Everyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer, which is why it is important for people to properly protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays.”

When you’re picking up your next bottle, check the label to learn if the sunscreen:

  • Is broad-spectrum, which means the sunscreen protects against UVB and UVA rays and helps prevent skin cancer and sunburn. With the new regulations, the FDA has clearly defined the testing required for a sunscreen to be labeled as “broad-spectrum.”
  • Has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. While SPF 15 is the FDA’s minimum recommendation for skin cancer prevention and sunburn, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF level of at least 30. For a sunscreen to carry the claim that it can help prevent skin cancer and early skin aging in addition to sunburn, it must offer both broad-spectrum coverage and an SPF of 15 or higher. If not, the label will carry the Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert. 
  • Has a Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert in the Drug Facts section of the label, which means the sunscreen will only prevent sunburn and will not reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.
  • Is water resistant for up to 40 minutes or 80 minutes, which means the sunscreen provides protection while swimming or sweating up to the time listed on the label. Sunscreen manufacturers now are banned from claiming that a sunscreen is “waterproof” or “sweat proof,” as the FDA has determined that those terms are misleading.

Find a sunscreen that feels good on your skin. “If it’s too heavy or greasy, you won’t use it. Keep trying different products until you find one you like,” says Minneapolis dermatologist Brian Zelickson, MD, who recommends: Target’s Up & Up Sport Spray SPF 30 Sunscreen ($5), L’Oreal Sublime Sun Advanced Sunscreen SPF 30 ($10), Obagi Nu-Derm Sun Shield SPF 50 ($48) and SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50 ($34).

But no matter what sunscreen you purchase, it’s irrelevant if you’re not applying it correctly. “This means covering all the skin that’s going to be exposed to the sun,” says Dr. Zelickson. “Like priming a wall to paint, it can take two coats. If you’re going to be out in the sun for an extended period of time, sweating or swimming, reapply the sunscreen every 1-2 hours.”

What's your sunscreen of choice?

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