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Confused About Sunscreen? What to Know Before Buying Your Next Bottle

May 28 2014 - 11:07am

With the recent release of the 2014 Sunscreen Guide [1] from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), you might be confused as to how to choose the right sunscreen and whether the bottle you own now is safe and effective. Buying sunscreen shouldn't cause you to break out in a cold sweat, so here are a few simple yet important things to look for when it comes to sunscreen.


The number on your bottle stands for sun protection factor, and believe it or not, a higher number doesn't equal more protection. The EWG recommends purchasing sunscreens with SPFs higher than 15 but no greater than 50. Studies show that sunscreens with an SPF higher than 50 don't offer greater protection, and many doctors argue that a higher number makes many people think a sunscreen lasts longer than one with a lower SPF, causing them to reapply less often, so they're more at risk for burns.

Broad Spectrum

UVB rays are responsible for burning as well as tanning your skin and are the main culprit responsible for skin cancer. And while UVA rays won't cause a sunburn, they penetrate your skin more deeply, leading to signs of aging including wrinkles, saggy and leathery skin, and sun spots. It's important to protect yourself from both types of UV rays, so look for bottles that say "broad spectrum" or "broad spectrum UVA/UVB."


Water Resistance

If your sunshiny adventures include water or sweating a lot, then definitely choose a sunscreen that's water-resistant. Know that these aren't waterproof — they'll only protect you about 40 to 80 minutes in the water, so you'll need to reapply each time you take a dip.

Chemicals to Avoid

Safe Sunscreen Recommendations

What you really want to know now is which sunscreens you should buy, right? Here are a few safe and effective recommendations that score highest on the EWG scale of best sunscreens and are also paraben-free:


The combo sunscreen and bug repellants seem like a great way to kill two birds with one stone, but they should be avoided since bugs may not even be an issue during the hours when UV rays are the strongest. Also, sunscreen may need to be reapplied more often than bug repellent, or visa versa. It's also not a good idea to apply the chemicals found in bug repellant to your face.

Another cool sunscreen gimmick are spray-ons. They may seem easier to apply, especially to hard-to-reach areas like your back, but they don't offer the coverage lotions do since it's difficult to see where and how much you've applied. Sprays and powdered sunscreens also pose the risk of inhalation [3], so go for one of the regular lotions mentioned above. Use about a shot-glass-size amount, and apply 30 minutes before heading out in the sun. Don't forget to reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

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