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What To Look For When Buying Sunscreen

By DuPage Medical Group Dermatology

Not all sunscreens are created equal. Everyone should understand what ingredients to look for, and avoid, in sunscreen. Sunscreen does not prevent cancer, but can help protect your skin from burning.

Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF 15-50 depending on your skin coloration, time outside and cloud cover. Everyone (above the age of 6 months old) should wear sunscreen when in the sun regardless of skin type. For children under the age of 6 months, direct sunlight exposure should be avoided.

Don’t be fooled by high SPF. Products with anything higher than SPF 50 tempt you to apply too little sunscreen and stay in the sun too long. Even if you don’t burn, your skin may be damaged. Stick with a SPF between 15 and 50 and reapply often! Make sure your sunscreen provides both UVA and UVB protection to best protect yourself from the sun.

Best Ingredients to Avoid Burning:

  • Zinc Oxide or Titanium dioxide
    • Physically blocks UVA and UVB light
  • Avobenzone (AKA Helioplex or Parsol 1789)
    • Blocks UVA light

Think twice about using products that contain any of the following ingredients:

  • Retinyl Palmitate
    • A form of vitamin A often used in night creams for its anti-aging effects. Has shown to have negative effects on sun-exposed skin and may actually speed development of skin cancer.
  • Oxybenzone
    • Can trigger allergic skin reactions in sensitive individuals and may disrupt the hormone system.
  • Fragrance
    • Often contains allergens and toxic chemicals

Also consider avoiding the following when choosing a sunscreen:

  • Moisturizers with SPF
    • Safe – but come up short in protecting from UVA and UVB sun rays. Since generally only applied once a day, moisturizers don’t provide enough sun protection when used on their own to protect against prolonged sun exposure. This can provide a great base, but should not be used as your go-to sunscreen if you plan on spending time outside.
  • Combined Sunscreen/Bug Repellents
    • Leads to increased skin absorption of the repellent ingredients since sunscreen needs to be applied more often than bug repellent.
  • Sunscreens that have an SPF above 50
    • SPF 50 and above protect against sunburn but can leave you exposed to UVA rays. Don’t get a false sense of security; even with a higher SPF follow the regular sun safety guidelines and continue to reapply every 2 hours when in the sun.
  • Tanning Oils
    • Tanning oil is not sunscreen and offers little to no sun protection. We do not recommend using any sunscreen with an SPF lower than 15.

Make sure you read the labels and make good sun safety decisions. A few brands recommended by our dermatologists include: Avène, Belleza Private Label, Colorscience®, EltaMD®, Obagi®, SolBar® and Skinceuticals. These can be found at our Belleza Skin Care Institute locations. The Environmental Working Group also reviews and provides ratings on select sunscreens each year.

Topics and Subtopics: Skin Health

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