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Friday, June 16, 2017

A Guide to Choosing the Best Sunscreen for Your Family

Photo by sabreguy29 (Flickr)

Sunscreen is important as we play outside in the summer and year-round because it prevents sunburn, skin cancer, and early skin aging. There are dozens of choices, though, and I always spend way too much time guessing which one is best. This year, I compiled a guide to help me learn more about the different types of sunscreen. Use it to choose the best one for your family.

Why SPF Matters

The first thing I look for when shopping for sunscreen is the SPF. SPF stands for sun protection factor, and it measures sunburn protection. According to the American Cancer Society, everyone should use at least SPF 15. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF 30.

I always thought that sunscreen with a higher SPF would protect skin better, but it turns out that experts don't recommend it. Sunscreens stop providing additional UVA protection after SPF 15, and high-SPF products may include higher amounts of sun-blocking chemicals that you may not be comfortable applying to your kids' skin. It's also easy to get lax about reapplying sunscreen with a high SPF every two hours as recommended because you think you're covered for way longer than that.

Read Sunscreen Ingredients

In addition to SPF, I check a sunscreen's ingredients. The words are usually hard to pronounce, but in a nutshell, they reveal if it's a chemical or mineral sunscreen or a combination of both.

Chemical sunscreens are also called chemical absorbers or organic sunscreens because they contain ingredients built on carbon molecules. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation energy, transform that energy into heat, and disperse it throughout your skin. If you see benzophenones, cinnamates, octinoxate, oxybenzone, PABA derivatives, and salicylates on the ingredients list, the sunscreen is chemical.

Mineral sunscreens are also called physical blockers or inorganic sunscreens. They reflect and then scatter UV radiation. Identify a mineral sunscreen when you see ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

Consider Photostability and Comedogenicity

Here are more long words that are good to know: "photostability" and "comedogenicity." I know they seem intimidating, but they're vital to understand as you choose the best sunscreen for your family.

Photostability refers to how well a sunscreen continues to protect skin when it's exposed to UV light. You want a product with high photostability, since it will provide ongoing protection. Typically, mineral sunscreens are photostable while chemical sunscreens vary from high to low photostability. I suggest you look for the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation on the bottle because it's only given to sunscreens that meet the organization's rigid photostability standards.

Comedogenicity describes how likely the product is to clog pores. The ingredients in mineral sunscreens usually have a low comedogenicity, making them perfect for baby sunscreen products. Chemical sunscreens typically have a higher comedogenicity that might be irritating to your skin.

Does Brand Matter?

When I grew up, my mom slathered me in Coppertone, and I relive my childhood every time I see this brand! Brand really doesn't matter, though. It's more important that you choose a sunscreen with three features.

  1. Broad-spectrum protection. When you use a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum sunscreen, you're protected from both UVA rays that cause premature aging, wrinkling, and cancer and UVB rays that cause sunburn.
  2. Water-resistance. Sunscreens that are water-resistant maintain their SPF for 40 minutes as you swim or sweat.
  3. Likeability. Whether you choose a cream, lotion, gel, stick, or spray sunscreen, you're more likely to use it if you and your kids like the texture, aroma, and coverage.

In addition to these three features, pay attention to application! Otherwise, you limit your sunscreen's effectiveness. First, apply at least an ounce of sunscreen to dry skin 30 minutes before you head outside. Then, reapply every two hours or more frequently if you're swimming, sweating, or fair-skinned. Make sure you cover all exposed skin, and use sunscreen on both sunny and cloudy days.

As you and your family play outdoors this summer, use this guide to help you choose the best sunscreen. It's an important part of your summer fun and your health!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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