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How to choose the right sun protection for your family

By Dr. Caitlyn Nguyen, family medicine physician

Keeping your family protected from the sun is one of the top priorities for summer fun. But there are so many options at pharmacies, box stores, even grocery stores — how do you choose?

Applying sunscreen

We recommend always choosing a sunscreen with the following characteristics:

  • SPF of at least 30; however, anything higher than 30 doesn’t offer much more protection

  • Broad spectrum coverage for protection from both UVA and UVB rays

  • Paraben and fragrance free and non-comedogenic to avoid skin irritation

  • Waterproof, especially if you’re going swimming or playing sports

Choosing the right sunscreen is the first step. We also want you to use it correctly:

  • Apply sunscreen 15 minutes prior to sun exposure

  • Re-apply every 2 to 4 hours

  • Apply it evenly to all exposed skin

  • Don’t forget easy-to-miss spots such as the sides of the face, neck, back and ears.

You also have a choice between chemical sunscreen and physical sunscreen. What’s the difference?

Chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin and absorbs UVA and UVB rays before releasing the absorbed rays as heat through the skin. Active ingredients include avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone.

Chemical sunscreen can be easier to apply than alternatives, and you can generally use smaller amounts to get the same sun protection.

However, it may not be for everyone. It can cause skin irritation because of its chemical makeup. It may also cause skin conditions such as rosacea or cause brown spots on the face due to heat being released onto the skin.

Children swimming in a pool

On the other hand, physical sunscreen does not absorb into the skin and is better for people with sensitive skin. Physical sunscreen typically contains titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.

Physical sunscreen reflects the UVA and UVB rays and does not allow them to penetrate to the deeper layers of skin. It is less likely to cause aging and skin cancer.

The biggest drawback to using physical sunscreen is the thickness of the formula. 

Remember the lifeguard with a white band of sunscreen on his/her nose?  Because of its thickness, it is difficult to apply evenly and doesn’t always provide equal sun protection.

Newer formulas of physical sunscreen are easier to apply and leave less of a white cast, which is great for women to wear under their makeup. However, it is still generally a thicker formula, which means it may rub off with sweat and need to be reapplied.

Use the sun protection that works best for you and your family. Try to avoid the most intense rays that occur from 10am to 4pm. And seek medical attention if you have a concern with sun exposure, sunburns or spots that appear on your skin.

Make sure to get your skin checked yearly as part of preventive health.


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