How do I know if I'm using the right sunscreen?
Using the right sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, which is the most common cancer in the United States.
When shopping for sunscreen, your choices can feel overwhelming. You’ll find lotions, sprays, sticks, gels, and creams. You may see SPFs ranging from 8 to 100. With so many options, it can be hard to tell which one you need.
To make it easier to buy sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology is sharing a simple two-step process. Here’s what you can do to find a sunscreen that’s right for you.
Step 1: Look for the 3 essentials
To protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, you want to use a sunscreen that offers all of the following:
SPF 30 (or higher)
Broad-spectrum protection (UVA/UVB)
Not every sunscreen offers all of the above. When it does, you’ll see the above words listed on the container. On some products, you may see the words “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB.”
It’s really important to use a sunscreen that offers these 3 essentials. Studies show that regular use of sunscreen can reduce your risk of:
Skin cancer, including melanoma, the most-serious skin cancer
Precancerous skin growths that can turn into skin cancer
Signs of premature skin aging like age spots, wrinkles, and leathery skin
Dark spots on your skin that can appear when acne, psoriasis, or another condition clears
Step 2: Consider your skin type, skin conditions, and other needs
By limiting your sunscreen choices to ones that contain the 3 essentials, you’ll still have quite a few options. To find a sunscreen that’s right for you, you’ll want to consider your skin’s unique needs and where you want to apply the sunscreen.
The following list can help you narrow your options so that you can find a sunscreen that’s right for you.
Acne-prone skin: Look for the words “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores".
Allergy-prone skin: Avoid sunscreen that contains fragrance, parabens, or oxybenzone (benzophenone-2, benzophenone-3, diosybenzone, mexenone, sulisobenzone, or sulisobenzone sodium).
Around your eyes: To prevent sunscreen from dripping into your eyes, use a sunscreen stick around your eyes. Make sure the stick has an SPF 30 (or higher), broad-spectrum protection, and water resistance.
Children: If your child is 6 months of age or older, use a sunscreen made for children. Most contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
For children who are younger than 6 months, the AAD recommends that you:
Keep them in the shade as much as possible.
Dress them in lightweight long sleeves, pants, a wide-brim hat, and sunglasses.
To prevent overheating, make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids.
If your baby becomes fussy, cries excessively, or has skin that feels hot to the touch, get your baby to a cooler place.
Dry skin: Look for “moisturizing” or “dry skin” on the label.
Hairy areas: Gels are good for these areas.
Lips: Lip balm with SPF 30+ and broad-spectrum protection.
Oily skin: Look for the words “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores.”
If you have a darker skin tone
Use a tinted sunscreen to prevent a white residue from forming on your skin.
Rosacea: Use a sunscreen that contains only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Many sunscreens for children contain only these 2 ingredients.
Sensitive skin: Use a sunscreen with the words “sensitive skin” on the label. Avoid products with fragrance, parabens, or oxybenzone (benzophenone-2, benzophenone-3, diosybenzone, mexenone, sulisobenzone, or sulisobenzone sodium).
Skin stings or burns when you apply sunscreen: Use a sunscreen that contains only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Many sunscreens for children use only these 2 ingredients. Avoid sunscreen with fragrance.
Get the most from your sunscreen
Now that you know how to find the right sunscreen for your skin, the following additional related articles can help you get the most protection from it.
Related AAD resources
Cestari T and Kesha Buster K. “Photoprotection in specific populations: Children and people of color.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2017;76:S110-21.
Lim HW, Arellano-Mendoza MI, et al. M “Current challenges in photoprotection.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2017;76:S91-9.
Maymone MBC, Neamah HH, et al. “Sun-protective behaviors in patients with cutaneous hyperpigmentation: A cross-sectional study.” J Am Acad Dermatol. In press, corrected proof, published online: February 15, 2017.
Sambandan DR and Ratner D. “Sunscreens: An overview and update.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;64:748-58.
Young AR, Claveau J, et al. “Ultraviolet radiation and the skin: Photobiology and sunscreen photoprotection.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2017;76:S100-9.
Last updated: 4/14/22