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August 17, 2018

Sunny news from dermatologists to make you rethink your sunscreen picks

Local docs break down our lotions and sticks and spray choices

Lifestyle Sunscreen
sunscreen Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

This is NOT the proper way to apply sunscreen.

Though they may seem temporary, sunburns can have lasting, damaging effects on the skin, risking the likelihood for skin cancer, as well as premature skin aging. The best protection, most dermatologists agree, is to stay out of the sun, or, at best, wear sun-protective clothing. But when all else fails, grab the sunscreen—and don’t hold back.


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Hands down, the best sunscreen, as Penn dermatologist Thuzar Shin often says, is the one you will, well, actually use.

“It’s the one you are going to want to wear,” Shin said. 

“There are so many out there, it sometimes takes trial and error.”

As overwhelming the sunscreen options may seem, one good place to start, said Nazanin Saedi, is Consumer Reports, which, this year, rated 73 lotions, sprays, and sticks.

“It’s a third party and they do risk testing for all their products – testing to see – for example, whether a product is true to its SPF label,” said Saedi, a dermatologist at Jefferson. "And testing it with consumers to see how easy it is to use.”

sunscreenRob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

This IS the right way to apply sunscreen. Amateur golfer Mason Andersen applies some to his face at the range during a practice round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. on June 13, 2017.


Paying for quality 

The sunscreen with the top rating? La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk, which boasts a fast-absorbing, velvety finish—and rings in at about $35 a pop.

A bit on the pricy side, Saedi said it’s one she uses herself, and would recommend it. But, if cost is a concern, there are varied other sunscreens from which to choose, with a few standard rules to keep in mind.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection, defending skin against UVA rays (which cause wrinkles) and UVB rays (which cause burning); SPF 30 or higher; as well as a block that’s water resistant. (A few years ago, the FDA did away with the faulty labels “waterproof” and “sweatproof” for sunscreens; the highest water-resistant products that exist today last for 80 minutes.)

“I usually recommend for the body SPF 45 or 50,” said Anthony Santoro, a dermatologist at Temple’s Fox Chase Cancer Center. 

“A lot of people think that SPF 100 is twice as good, but studies have shown that sunscreens above SPF 50 become negligible.”

sunscreen PA Images/Sipa USA

Studies show lotions provide better overall coverage than spray sunscreens.


Zinc or swim 

No matter the brand, two ingredients to pay attention to, said Samantha Colosi, a dermatologist at Center City Dermatology, are natural minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which act as a shield, deflecting the sun’s rays. They’re used—together or separately—in physical sunscreens, and are typically recommended by dermatologists, especially to people with sensitive skin.

“The more natural brands have physical blockers,” said Saedi. 

“The downside is that a lot of these formulations, which go on whiter, aren’t always aesthetically pleasing.”

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone, which absorb the sun’s rays, and contribute to formulations that rub into the skin more easily, without a white residue, though they tend to feel a bit greasier.

sunscreen PA Images/Sipa USA

Slathering on sunscreen could be one of the factors behind people becoming vitamin D deficient, a new study suggests.


Check the date 

It’s important to like the look and feel of the sunscreen you choose, especially because it’s supposed to be applied so frequently. Dermatologists suggest most adults need about 1 ounce—or enough to fill a shot glass—to fully cover their bodies; an amount that should be applied every two hours, or soon after swimming or sweating. Also, sunscreen shouldn’t be used when it’s expired.

“That’s for a couple reasons,” said Saedi, noting the breakdown of ingredients. 

Also, she explained, “If you’re using sunscreen appropriately, you shouldn’t have old sunscreen. One of the biggest problems we see is that people don’t use the right amount. Typically, they use 25 to 50 percent of the sunscreen they are supposed to use.”

A lot of people think that SPF 100 is twice as good, but studies have shown that sunscreens above SPF 50 become negligible.”

When it comes to our faces, said Santoro, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: We should be protecting them every day.

“Even when you’re riding in your car going to work, 10 to 20 minutes in the car for the face can cause enough damage that, over time, it will cause wrinkles, fine lines, sunspots, and also increase your risk for skin cancers,” he said.

Some people say they “break out” when they use body sunscreens on their face, noted Colosi. She typically suggests finding a facial sunscreen that not only has SPF 30 and zinc oxide, but also is oil free, fragrance free, and non-comedogenic, meaning it’s not going to clog your pores.

Many daily moisturizers now maintain SPF 15, explained Santoro, but “in an ideal world,” said Saedi, “I would love people to use a real sunscreen every day.”

“I have found with younger women, it’s easier to get them to wear tinted sunscreens,” Saedi said. 

“It evens out complexions. People are more likely to wear a sunscreen every day if it has some added cosmetic value.”

sunscreen PA Images/Sipa USA

File photo of people on the beach at Barry Island, South Wales, as people are being warned to wear sunglasses to help protect against skin cancer after research found sunbathers generally forget to apply sun cream to key areas of their face.


With sprays risk more rays 

Ease of use, which Saedi said “shouldn’t be overlooked,” is also key to finding the right sunscreen. Even though the FDA is investigating the potential health risks of spray sunscreens, Saedi said they are good for people on the go—“It makes reapplying and wearing sunscreen just easier to do,” she explained, noting that it’s important to not spray it directly on you or your kids’ faces—spray it on your hands first, and rub it in.

On that note, Colosi said, you can’t just spray the sunscreen on your body and call it quits. 

“You have to make sure you rub it in after you spray your skin,” she explained.

As skin cancer becomes more prevalent—the Skin Cancer Foundation says one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70—it’s prompted the U.S. government and sunscreen manufacturers to at least get the ball rolling when it comes to conversations about more innovative sunscreens. You know, like the ones in, say, Europe.

“It’s not that we don’t have good sunscreens in the U.S.,” said Shin. 

“We have adequate sunscreens. Everything on the shelf, at least anything SPF 15 or higher, helps prevent skin cancer. But, the FDA hasn’t approved new ingredients [in years]. There’s something to be said about innovation and having more consumer choices.”

More consumer choices, although it seems daunting, just allow for more trial and error. Find the sunscreen that you love—with ingredients, a texture, and a smell you will want to wear day after day.

But, don’t forget, said Shin: “First, it’s about sun protective clothing and seeking shade. Those really come before the sunblock.”