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What to Look for When Shopping for Sunscreen According to Dermatologists

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It’s widely known that sunscreen is one of the best things you can do for your skin – and should be an integral part of any daily regimen. But what makes a good sunscreen? If you’re shopping around for the right sunscreen for your skin, there are a few things to keep in mind, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Here’s our guide to what to look for when shopping for sunscreen here at Reflections Center for Cosmetic Medicine.

Physical Sunscreen vs Chemical Sunscreen

One of the most important categorizations of sunscreen is physical versus chemical. This is actually an important distinction when it comes to factors like your skin type and tone. Physical sunscreens work by physically blocking the sun’s rays – they act as a barrier that lays on the skin and reflects UV rays, preventing them from reaching the skin. Typically, physical sunscreens use ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, work by absorbing the sun’s rays before they penetrate the skin. This typically involves ingredients like oxybenzone.

There are other differences between physical and chemical sunscreens, such as the way they lay on the skin. Physical sunscreens tend to leave a whitish cast and greasy feel, which may not be ideal for certain skin tones or types. Chemical sunscreens absorb better into the skin and are more cosmetically elegant – but can be harsh for certain skin types. If you’re not sure which one is best for you, consider trying one of each to see which one you like better.

Broad Spectrum

When we talk about the sun’s rays, we’re actually referring to a few different types of UV rays. UVA and UVB rays each do different things to the skin – for example, UVA rays are longer wavelength and are what cause skin aging. UVB rays are shorter wavelength and are what cause the skin to burn. Both are important when it comes to the long-term health of your skin. “Broad spectrum” refers to sunscreen that blocks both types of UV rays and should always be a factor when choosing a formula.


SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measure of how much UV radiation is required to cause sunburn on protected skin versus unprotected skin. So, the higher the SPF rating, the better the protection. SPF does not refer to how long you can stay in the sun before you’ll get burned – this is a common misconception. That’s because the intensity of the sun’s UV rays can vary based on a variety of factors like time of day, weather, location, and more. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing SPF of at least 30 daily.

Texture and Skin Type

Not all sunscreen formulas will work with your skin. Depending on whether you opt for physical or chemical sunscreens, you may find sunscreens that offer a better cosmetic experience. For example, some sunscreens are matte and absorb well so they can be a good base for makeup. Make sure to also consider your skin type – if you’re prone to outbreaks, make sure to choose sunscreens that are non-comedogenic and avoid greasy, oily formulas. On the other hand, if you have dry skin, look for sunscreens that have additional moisturizing ingredients.

Spray, Lotion, Stick, or Gel

Now more than ever, there are different types of sunscreens as far as the application method. You may consider incorporating more than one into your regimen – for example, a lotion to apply in the morning and a spray to reapply in the afternoon. Sunscreen sticks can be good for travel or acne-prone skin, or gel sunscreen may be good for oily skin. Whatever your preference, just make sure it offers good protection and you use it regularly.

The Bottom Line

There are tons of sunscreens to pick from when it comes to your daily regimen, but the best sunscreen is one that you’ll use and enjoy. If you have specific needs from your sunscreen, try to focus on those rather than finding a sunscreen that will tick all your boxes. And if you’re not sure where to start? Meet with a cosmetic physician who can help you explore all possible options and find the one that works best for your needs.

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