Skin cancers are more prevalent than ever- killing thousands of people in the US every year. About 90 percent of the time, the risk of developing skin cancer is directly related to the amount and intensity of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure one receives from the sun.
Fortunately, it’s easy to limit excessive UV exposure — and lower your risk of skin cancer — with the regular use of sun protection. But, finding the right sunscreen for your specific needs can be a challenge.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has approved the use of seventeen sunscreen ingredients that include both chemical and physical substances. Both types can be effective and safe if used properly. The question is, which sunscreen ingredients are right for you? For example, babies and toddlers have different sun protection needs than adults, while sunscreens made for dry skin may not suit people with acne or rosacea. The following guide should help you find the right sunscreen for your skin’s needs.
Incidental vs. Intense Exposure
For starters, the kind of sunscreen you use may vary depending on the type of outdoor exposure you are expecting. For incidental sun exposure — when you are outside only for minutes at a time — a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15, which filters out about 93 percent of UV radiation, is usually sufficient.
For extended, intense exposure, you should use a broadspectrum (effective protection against significant portions of UVA and UVB), water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. SPF 30 filters out up to 97 percent of the sun’s UV radiation; SPF 50 filters out up to 98 percent.
For Children’s Skin
Chemicals can irritate children’s sensitive skin; PABA and oxybenzone in particular have been associated with skin reactions. The physical sunscreens zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to be better tolerated by people with sensitive skin and can usually be found in sunscreens for babies and children.
For Allergy, Acne and Rosacea-prone Skin
Patients with allergy-prone skin or conditions such as acne or rosacea should avoid products containing preservatives or fragrances, as well as those containing PABA or oxybenzone. Again, the ingredients least likely to cause skin reactions are the physical sunscreens, as well as those made with salicylates and ecamsule. Allergy prone and rosacea patients should also avoid sunscreens containing alcohol. Patients with acne, however, may find gel formulas, which usually contain alcohol, more drying and less likely to aggravate acne. Acne-prone sceen patients should avoid greasy sunscreens (often marketed as “creams”).