Sunscreen – How to Choose the Right One?

*By: Christi Shingara*

Photo: Federico Giampie

During the summer months when the sun is more intense and we find ourselves outside more often than not, it is imperative to have the right sun protection. Dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen everyday, especially on your face, and during the summer, slathering it on any exposed skin.

But with so many sunscreens out there on the market, how do you know which one is right for you? And what do all those acronyms such as SPF, UVB, UVA really mean and what numbers should you focus on? Let us help break it down for you…


SPF stands for sun protection factor. It is a measurement of time that the sunscreen will actually protect you from the ultraviolet rays. For example, SPF 30 means it takes 30 times as long for the skin to burn as it would without protection.


Ultraviolet B (UVB) has a shorter wavelength and is associated with skin burning. Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a longer wavelength and is attributed to tanning and aging of the skin.


Sunblock is a lotion that sits on top of the skin and helps block UVA And UVB rays. Sunblock becomes a physical barrier between the sun and your skin. It also is thicker than a sunscreen. The FDA actually has banned the use of the name sunblock due to the fact that nothing can really block you totally from the sun.


Sunscreen on the other hand absorbs UVA and UVB rays before your skin can and transforms it into heat. It is not as thick as sunblock.

Broad Spectrum Sunscreen

This term is used by sunscreen companies to describe a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

The Big Picture

Now that we have all the terms down, let’s look at the big picture. According to the FDA, SPF 30 to SPF 50 is adequate to protect the skin. For example, SPF 15 blocks 93% of the sun rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% , SPF 50 blocks 98% and SPF 100 blocks 99%. The difference is very minimal so if you wear SPF 30 to 50 that should suffice. Make sure the bottle mentions UVB, UVA protection or broad spectrum protection. Look for water resistant sunscreen products if you will be water bound. Water resistant sunscreens can last up to 40-80 minutes in the water. Also, make sure your sunscreen has not expired. According to the FDA, Sunscreen can last up to 3 years. After that, it’s time to toss it as it loses it’s strength over time.

Other sunscreen tips for protecting yourself from the sun are as follows:

  • Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before heading outside.
  • Reapply about every 2 hours.
  • Apply sunscreen on a sunny and cloudy day. You can get a sunburn even if it is cloudy.
  • Limit long amounts of time in the sun between 10am and 4pm. These are the peak times when the sun is the strongest.
  • Wear protective clothing if possible such as sunglasses, hats, shirts, pants.
  • Don’t forget your lips!! Put that sunscreen on your lips because they can burn too!

Types of Applications

Spray – When using spray make sure to spray generously. Sprays are great if you think you may miss a spot such as the back. They are also great for children.

Gel – Gels work great in more hairy areas such as scalp and chest.

Lotions – Great for large areas and are less greasy and thinner than creams. Also, apply in generous amounts.

Stick – Works well when applying sunscreen around the eyes and delicate areas.

Creams – Work well for the face and for dry skin. They are thick and may take some time to rub in.

Sunscreen that I use:

The Bottom Line

Whatever kind of sunscreen you chose, the important thing is read the bottle, chose something that is at least SPF 30, apply generously, limit your time in the sun and reapply every 2 hours.

We all want to enjoy the warm, summer months ahead, and being mindful about wearing sunscreen will ensure you won’t have to worry about treating a painful sunburn and ultimately reduce the long-term effects of sun exposure.

What is your favorite sunscreen? Let me know in the comments below.

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