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Are you Using the Correct Sunscreen for your Skin Type?


Neelam Vashi, MD
 

Too much sun exposure poses a serious risk to your health. Repeat sunburns damage the skin and increase the risk of getting skin cancer, one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer. Using sunscreen to prevent sun damage is an important step, but do you know the correct sunscreen to use for your skin type?

We've listed out some important sunscreen features and ingredients so that you may know what provides the safest protection based on your skin type:

  • Acne, Allergy, and/or Rosacea: Avoid products that contain preservatives, fragrances, PABA, and oxybenzone. If your skin is prone to allergic reactions or rosacea, avoid products with alcohol. If you have acne, avoid greasy sunscreen and look for ones that are more gel-based as they're less likely to impact acne-prone skin. If you're taking an acne medication, this may increase sensitivity to the sun so it is particularly important for you to cover your skin with sunscreen.
  • Aging Skin: Although you may have already been exposed to the sun's rays early in life, sunscreen use is still important, because unprotected skin can still develop cancer at any age. Also, protect your skin from developing age spots, wrinkles, and leathery-feeling skin. Look for sunscreens with anti-aging benefits to repair damage and brighten skin.
  • Children's Skin: Children's skin is more likely to be sensitive to chemicals. Look for the ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
  • Dry Skin: Moisturizing sunscreens are best for dry skin. Ingredients to look for include lanolin, oils, and silicones.
  • Fair Skin: People with fair skin are most likely to burn. Always use sunscreen that is an SPF 30 or higher, that is water resistant, and reapply often when you're outside for long periods of time.
  • Medium/Dark-Toned Skin: Individuals with darker skin who tan easily and burn rarely can still burn and do need to use sun screen. Look for sunscreens that have an SPF 30+ and that will fully rub in and won't leave a white residue on the skin. Newer formulations with iron oxide come in tinted formulations to help lessen the white residue.
  • Oily Skin: If your skin tends to look or feel greasy, opt for a sunscreen that says, “oil free” on the label. Look for ingredients like cyclomethicone and dimethicone, which absorb oil.

What's up with SPF?

You've probably noticed that sun-protection factor (SPF) numbers range from very high to very low. Contrary to popular belief, higher SPF does not measure effectiveness. Instead, SPF measures the length of time a sunscreen will protect your skin from burning from UVB rays. For example, if you were to go outside without sunscreen, it would take about 20 minutes for your skin to start reddening. With SPF 15, though, it should prevent burns 15 times longer than if you were not wearing any sunscreen, so approximately 5 hours.

Sunscreen is only effective, however, when you apply enough onto your skin. Most people do not apply as much sunscreen as they should, which would make SPF-30 as effective as an SPF-15. There is not much difference in added protection above SPF-30.

Even though there is no sunscreen that provides 100% protection from the sun, it is still an important step in protecting your skin from the sun's harmful rays, which, overtime, can cause skin cancer.