Guide to Summer: Sunscreen Explained

sunscreen-explained-2 With so many sunscreen choices out there, I wanted to give you a rundown of what to look for to keep you protected this summer. I’ve mentioned it before, but my biggest health and beauty mistake of my youth was not wearing sunscreen. I have brown spots and skin damage to show for it.

I know better now, so I make sunscreen an integral part of my beauty routine year-round. Here’s what to look for and the rules I follow in my guide to summer: sunscreen explained.

Sunscreen Type: Chemical vs. Physical

There are two types of sunscreen that come in a lot of different formulations: physical and chemical. Physical blockers are natural minerals that are ground down to fine powders. There are two types of physical blockers, zinc oxide and titanium oxide.  The benefit of physical blockers is that they do not decompose with sun exposure. There are currently 22 chemical blockers on the market; these are made in chemists labs. 

What Number SPF Do I Need?

Choose a broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher. An SPF 30 blocks 97% of all UVB rays (the ones that burn your skin). But here’s the catch, an SPF 50 only blocks 98% of all UVB rays. A lot of companies advertise very high SPF numbers, which many people think are better, but no sunscreen can block 100% of the UV rays. Most dermatologists suggest an SPF 30 to 50.

sunscreen-explained-3Types of Sunscreen

There are so many different types of sunscreens. You will have to decide what works best for you depending on the situation. Also, check out the 7 sunscreens that are Consumer Reports approved for 2014.


Best for: Ears, Lips
Sticks are best for hard to reach and areas you probably don’t want to put sunscreen, like your lips and ears. Sticks are also a good choice for children’s faces because the waxy formula is less likely to run into their eyes.
Try: Stick


Best for: the first coat and dry skin
Lotions tend to be more foolproof than sprays or sticks. Because they are generally white, you can see where you are applying them. Lotions tend to give a more even and fuller coverage than other types of sunscreen, making it the best choice for the first coat of the day so you don’t miss any spots.
Try: For Baby; First Coat


Best for: touch-ups
Spray sunscreens are quick and easy to apply, but people often don’t apply nearly enough or spray from a distance too far away. Also, there are concerns about inhalation. I personally do not plan to use spray sunscreen for my kids for this reason, but will use it as a back-up if I don’t have another option. If you do choose a spray, I suggest using an all-over lotion first because you can see where you are applying it so you are less likely to miss spots. Then, use a spray for touch-ups throughout the day and for the hard-to-reach spots (like your back).


Best for: oil-prone skin
Gels are lightweight and tend not to be greasy and oily like lotions can be.
Try: Gel


Best for: daily use, not to replace sunscreen
Many foundations, BB creams, concealers and powders contain some SPF (usually ranging from 15 to 45).  These products are great for an added level of sun protection, but they should not be used to replace an SPF for your face or neck. Just as with sprays, people tend not to use enough of their makeup to completely protect their faces/necks from the sun. Plus, makeup wears off throughout the day, so you’re 7am foundation is not going to protect you on your after-dinner walk.
Try: Powder, Foundation, BB Cream, Concealer

How to Apply Sunscreen Correctly

It may seem obvious, but most people do not apply nearly enough sunscreen. Experts advise to apply at least 1 oz. 30 minutes before you will be out in the sun, so the ingredients have time to absorb and bind to the skin. If you are out in the sun for an extended period of time, you should reapply at least every two hours. If you are swimming or sweating, you should apply even more often.

Is My Sunscreen Waterproof?

No. The FDA ruled that companies can no longer call sunscreen waterproof. The new categories are “water-resistant” or “very water-resistant”, meaning 40 minutes or 80 minutes, respectively.

What type of sunscreen do you use most often? Do you have a brand you can’t live without?


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