You and Your Sunscreen

Summer is upon us, and with the advent of beautifully hot summer days, you’ll probably find yourself on a last minute drive to the beach. You’ll make a pit stop at the drugstore for those last minute essentials — drinks, snacks, and, of course, sunscreen. They don’t make it easy, though. You stand before this wall of playfully colored bottles gazing at a range of numerical insignia, and each one claims to be better than the competition. Which do you choose? Which will protect you and your family best? Let’s take a look at all the varying options before you and break them down.

You and Your Sunscreen

What Makes Up Your Sunscreen?


SPF, or sun protection factor, should be a key component in your choice of sunscreens. While catching some rays is nice, especially after a long winter, catching too many and burning your skin can have lasting effects — both on the appearance of your skin and on your health. SPF is a measure of how much protection you have against UVB radiation — the kind that burns your skin.

The SPF number signifies how much longer you can stay in the sun before burning while wearing the sunscreen. For example, if you normally burn within 10 minutes in the sun without sunscreen, then an SPF of 30 will theoretically allow you to spend 300 minutes in the sun before burning. This is theoretical because you might use less sunscreen than the manufacturer did when testing the product, and therefore you might not be getting the same amount of protection. However, SPF still remains a good guide when choosing your sunscreen.

Broad Spectrum

While SPF will protect you from UVB rays, you also want protection from UVA radiation. UVA radiation is responsible for prematurely aging your skin and contributing to skin cancer. When you see “broad spectrum” on your sunscreen bottle, it means that it meets new U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for protecting against UVA and UVB rays, leaving you and your family completely protected.

“Water Resistant”

You used to see a lot more reassuring claims on your sunscreen bottle. The FDA, however, has barred manufacturers from using such phrases as “waterproof,” “sweat proof,” or “sunblock,” because these overstate the effectiveness of the product. You can still look for a product that claims to be “water resistant.” Look closely, though, because sunscreen labels are also required to state whether they are effective up to 40 minutes or 80 minutes during swimming or sweating. This way you’ll know how often to call your little mer-kids (aka, your children) out of the water for re-application.


Stay educated about what’s in your sunscreen. Active ingredients used in sunscreen fall into two categories: chemical and physical. If you look at the list of ingredients and see such words as avobenzone or oxybenzone, your sunscreen has chemical ingredients. If you see such words as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, you’ll know it contains physical ingredients. If you have sensitive skin or are simply trying to avoid chemical components, stick with the physical ingredients. Either way, it’s good to stay informed.

Proper Application

Using your sunscreen properly is as important as choosing the right one. Remember to apply your sunscreen before you go outdoors, and don’t be too frugal in applying it — you want to be protected, and you won’t be if you don’t use enough. Be careful not to miss any spots, such as the back of your neck or the tips of your ears. Also, remember to reapply every two hours, or after swimming, drying yourself with a towel, or sweating heavily. You’ve spent the money — you want it to work!


At the end of the day it comes down to your personal preference. You might not enjoy the oily feeling that one sunscreen leaves, while another person might not mind it as long as it has the protection they need at the price they want. It’s important that you like the feel and smell of your sunscreen, because otherwise you’re not as likely to use it — and what’s the sense in that?

Hopefully the next time you’re off to replace your sunscreen you’ll be able to make a well-informed decision and not be so bogged down by the plethora of choices available to you. Remember to stay protected during this beautifully sunny season ahead.

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