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What's Your Best Sunscreen?

By Suz Redfearn

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

WebMD Feature

The sunscreen aisle of the grocery store or drugstore these days is big and confusing. The shelves are loaded with gels, sticks, sprays, and oil-free versions in addition to the traditional lotions we grew up with.

What's the best kind to get? That depends on you, says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

The best sunscreen is the one you're willing to use every day. The next step is to ask yourself these six questions to help make a perfect sunscreen match:

6 Questions to Ask

  1. Are you sporty? Then the gels are best, as they adhere well while you move and sweat, he says.
  2. Do you break out? Then the oil-free kind is best. Do you have dry skin? Use a creamy sunscreen. 
  3. Do you have sensitive skin or rosacea? Then stay away from chemical blockers, opting for mineral (or physical) blockers instead. They use either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin's surface. Chemical blockers are absorbed into the skin and can be irritating.
  4. Are you shopping for your kids? Then the stick kind is best as its formulation is waxy, which keeps it from dripping into their eyes. If you have a baby or toddler, choose a mineral/physical sunblock (think zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) that may be less irritating to the skin. But if you have a baby who is less than 6 months old, you should keep her out of the sun. "Babies have much more sensitive skin than adults, and sunscreen should be avoided," states the American Academy of Dermatology's web site.
  5. Are you bald? It doesn't matter what kind of sunscreen you use, just make sure to slather the sunscreen all over your head. Or better yet, wear a hat. Even better? Do both, said Whitney Bowe, MD, assistant medical director for cosmetic and laser services at Advanced Dermatology PC in Westchester, N.Y. 
  6. Are you hairy? Then the sprays and gels are best as they don't take forever to rub in, clinging to hairs like creams do, Zeichner says.

 

Apply It Right

Apply your sunscreen about 15 minutes before you go outside so that it has a chance to adhere to your skin in a cool environment. If you put it on while you're outside, you could sweat it off, Bowe says. 

You probably need to use more than you think: at least 1ounce -- or a full shot glass worth -- for your whole body every two hours, more often if you've gone swimming or have been sweating, Bowe says. Your face needs a nickel-sized amount. 

Seems like too much? It's not. Research has shown that most people only apply a quarter to half the amount their body actually needs. And that can leave you, well, burned. "Applying half the amount will effectively give you protection of the square root of the SPF," Zeichner says.

Reapply right after swimming and sweating. If you've been using a water-resistant sunscreen, check the label to see how long the water resistance lasts.  

Don't forget your lips, which need a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Got an old bottle of sunscreen? It may be time to replace it.  If you’ve had it a year or more, check the expiration date on the bottle.

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