How do I know if I’m using the right sunscreen?

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Using the right sunscreen every day 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, gels, and creams. With so many different SPFs, 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)
  • Water resistance

Not every sunscreen offers all 3. 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 the 3 essentials. Studies show that daily use 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
  • Sunburn
  • Melasma
  • 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, PABA, 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: Use a sunscreen made for children. Most contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Dry skin: Look for “moisturizing” or “dry skin” on the label.

Lips: Lip balm with SPF 30+ and broad-spectrum protection.

Oily skin: Look for the words “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores.”

Olive to darkly colored skin: Use sunscreen with a tint to prevent a white reside 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 can help you get the most protection from it.

How to apply sunscreen

Find out how to apply sunscreen so that it delivers the protection you expect.

How to decode sunscreen lingo

Ever wonder why your sunscreen needs an SPF and broad-spectrum protection? You’ll find out what these terms and others used on sunscreen mean.

Sunscreen FAQs

You’ll find answers to the most commonly asked questions about sunscreen, including “How much sunscreen should I use?” and  “Is a high-number SPF better than a low-number one?”


References
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.