Buying sunscreen these days can be a daunting task. What used to be as simple as grabbing the nearest bottle of lotion is now a confusing endeavor. There are shelves full of spray cans, moisturizers and some weird amalgamation of lotion and tanning cream that somehow protects you from the sun, while also making you look like the half-baked cousin of an Oompa Loompa.
If you’re unsure of what sunscreen you should be looking for, here’s a handy guide to help you out.
Spray On or Lotion
The truth is there isn’t much difference in the effectiveness of sprays or lotions as a whole, but whether or not you use them properly can affect how well they work. For maximum coverage and protection you need to apply at least ¼ teaspoon of lotion on each part of your body every four hours. Sprays require at least 6 seconds of spraying on each area.
Each of them should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before exposing your skin to the sun. If you’re looking for a less greasy feel, spray is usually the way to go. Lotions nowadays provide moisturizing effects, which can be good for fighting dried skin caused by sun damage, but they often leave behind a bit of greasy after-effect.
It’s also a bit easier to reach some areas of the body with a spray sunscreen than it is a lotion.
Sport or Regular
You might have noticed that so-called sport sunscreens have flooded the shelves in recent years. The great thing about these is that they actually do have a purpose beyond making you feel manlier about buying lotion. If you’re an active guy—or gal—sport creams usually come packed with water resistant formulas to help prevent it from wearing off while you’re pounding the sand in a game of volleyball or bouncing around in the ocean. You can even find some that reach as high as 85 SPF.
If you’re more the type to lounge around and soak up the rays with little to no sweating involved you’re fine just sticking with the regular ole’ lotions and sprays.
What is an SPF?
The SPF is the sun protection factor. It measures the amount of protection found in the lotion or spray against UVB rays, the ultraviolet radiation B that causes you to burn. The SPF does not protect against UVA rays, which cause your skin to age.
- SPF 4–8: These low-level SPFs give minimal protection against the sun, but are useful for people looking to add a little color to their skin. You can even find them with added bronzers to help you tan quicker.
- SPF 15: This is the minimal level of protection recommended by the FDA for protection against sun exposure and skin cancer.
- SPF 30: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF 30 as the minimal level of protection adults and children should have before exposing themselves to the sun.
- SPF 50 or above: High level SPFs are necessary for people with sensitive and light skin, or anyone with a history of skin cancer in their family. Gingers, we’re looking at you. It’s best for anyone wanting to minimize the potential damage by UVB and UVA rays as much as possible.
While these guidelines give a good idea of the purpose and protection level of each SPF, the truth is there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Your skin’s sensitivity to UVB rays and ability to burn will determine your actual needs. Someone who burns easily might not receive adequate coverage with an SPF 30, while someone who doesn’t burn much at all might be fine with SPF 15. You might have to go with some trial and error before finding the right one.
When to Use Sunscreen
This is where most people drop the ball when it comes to protecting their skin. For healthy skin and to reduce the risk of skin cancer you should apply sunscreen whenever you leave the house. Even on cloudy days UVB and UVA rays still penetrate your skin.
Sunscreen should be applied evenly on every part of the body not covered by hair or clothes, especially sensitive areas like the face, neck and feet. Be sure to reapply after every four hours of sun exposure. If you get into the water, you need to apply it even more often than that as it’ll washes off. You can purchase sport lotions to help fight off this effect, but you should still reapply more often than if you remain dry, especially if you towel off after leaving the water.
When choosing a sunscreen look for ones labeled broad spectrum, like these, to ensure protection against both UVB and UVA rays.
Nobody wants to look like a dried-out raisin by the time they turn 60, so you’d better get to work on applying the right amount of sunscreen today. Remember, if you have a bottle or can of sunscreen left over from the previous summer, that means you’re not using enough of it during your time at the beach.