How to Choose the Right Sunscreen With So Many Options

Woman applying sunscreen at the beach

If you’ve shopped the sunscreen aisle recently, you probably noticed that there are A LOT of options. This can be overwhelming, to say the least. Fortunately, with a little extra effort and a few pro pointers, you can be sure to find the right sunscreen for any activity as we look toward spring and summer weather.

Why are there so many options? And with spring, is daily sunscreen necessary yet?

There are a few reasons for all the different sunscreens you see on the shelf, which are more complex than just marketing and product design. With new FDA regulations, rates of skin cancer on the rise, and a trend toward sun protection for anti-aging, it’s a dynamic marketplace that deserves extra attention.

Regardless of the season, sunscreen is a must. When the air is still dryer in spring, consider a sunscreen containing a moisturizer or a hyaluronic acid formulation. The reality is that no matter what time of year, our skin can benefit from daily UV protection on areas regularly exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and hands. If you only apply sunscreen before going to the beach or golf course, it’s time to rethink your morning routine. Sun damage is cumulative over our lifetimes and contributes to premature aging. Daily UV protection is the number one way to prevent dullness, unwanted pigmentation, and skin cancer.

There are two main types of sunscreen – chemical and physical barriers. Chemical sunscreens protect from harsh UV radiation through absorption; physical sunscreen blocks the light and reflects damaging UV rays. These two mechanisms are safe and effective for preventing sunburns and photodamage. The type of sunscreen you choose can be based on preference and tolerance to ingredients, skin feeling, or activity levels. Both types should protect against UVA and UVB.

Comparing Types of Sunscreen

Physical sunscreens are made using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide; some contain only one, while others may have both minerals. Chemical sunscreens commonly use avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. Other chemicals, like Mexoryl, are effective and safe, and European countries already have more formulations on the market. Recently the FDA decided to look at the many potential ingredients and options for sunscreen and is expected to update its regulations on sunscreen soon.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of sunscreens. Typically, physical sunscreen is white due to the color of the mineral. While it is traditionally considered a thicker and stickier option, many newer formulations have been developed for more transparent and easier application. On the other hand, chemical sunscreen usually feels lighter on the skin’s surface and may not cause as much dryness.

Are Chemical Sunscreens Safe?

Chemical sunscreens absorb into our skin and have been detected in blood samples when used daily. While it’s unclear if this poses any specific risks, some people are concerned about the dangers of some formulations. While this debate continues, one thing is sure – with the knowledge we have now; any sunscreen is better than repeated sunburns and the damage that comes with it.

In addition to the possibility of chemicals in our blood, many people become sensitized to these chemicals. A hypersensitivity rash can develop after using sunscreen with chemical ingredients, even if you have used the same sunscreen before without any problems.

Finally, some ingredients used in chemical sunscreens may cause damage to aquatic ecosystems, including reefs. For this reason, states such as Hawaii have banned many of them altogether.

Are More Expensive Sunscreens Worth the Extra Money?

That depends. Some of the less-costly formulations are both effective and safe. Unfortunately, these are often not the most aesthetically pleasing products on the market, especially if they appear white on the skin or feel sticky. Furthermore, fragrances and chemicals can cause breakouts and irritation like contact dermatitis. The primary reason for spending the extra money on sunscreen is that you are likelier to wear it every day and love how it looks and feels. Finding the right product can take some experimenting, but our dermatologists can point you in the right direction for high-quality brands. We can often offer samples of these products so you feel confident it is right for you before buying.

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North Atlanta Dermatology has five locations around Northern Atlanta to serve you.

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3850 Pleasant Hill Road
Duluth, Georgia 30096

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Suwanee, GA 30024

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Buford, GA 30519

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Cumming, GA 30041

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Marietta, GA 30062