By Marshall Madsen


Here’s the breakdown on what you need to look for to find the right sunscreen for your skin.

The sun gives us light, energy, life, and summer. It also gives us some gnarly sunburns if we get carried away in it for too long. To combat the less fun effects of the sun, we use sunscreen (duh!) – but with so many options on the shelf at the local convenience store, how do you pick the right one?

Here’s the breakdown on what you need to look for to find the right sunscreen for your skin.

Two Ways to Combat UV Rays

Sunscreen is created to block or deflect ultraviolet (UV – divided into either UVA or UVB) radiation that the sun produces. UV rays react with your cells on a variety of levels. From melanin production to helping produce Vitamin D (see our 9 Things You Never Knew About Your Skin for more info). Scientists have developed two ways to stop these UV rays from reaching your skin:

  1. Organic sunscreen: Called organic because it contains carbon (not because it is grown without pesticides). This type of sunscreen acts as a sponge of protection around your skin, absorbing harmful UV rays so that your skin doesn’t get burned.
  2. Inorganic sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen): Contains titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both. These minerals allow the sunscreen to reflect the rays of the sun before they reach your skin, acting like a shield by deflecting the rays.

Which is better?

Either type of sunscreen helps protect the skin from UV rays, but inorganic sunscreen just might be the better option. In the battle of inorganic and organic sunscreens, most dermatologists seem to err on the side of caution with organic sunscreens. When exposed to sunlight organic sunscreen absorbs UV rays, and can become unstable.

Certain ingredients found in organic sunscreen, like oxybenzone and octocrylene, disperse the extra energy from UV light in ways that can lead to the creation of harmful free radicals (the very thing you are trying to prevent when putting sunscreen on).

SPF: The Key is to Reapply

Just like we talked about in “10 Simple Ways to Protect Your Skin Outdoors,” a conversation about sunscreen can’t really be complete without discussing SPF. The Sun Protection factor, according to dermatologist Dr. Katy Burris, “…is an indication of how long it will take you to develop a sunburn.” Burris explains that time-wise you can generally multiply the SPF number by 10 minutes. This is how long you can go before reapplying.

For most people, SPF 15 is a good amount if you just remember to reapply after 150 minutes. However, some people with certain skin issues might want a higher SPF. While a good guideline, it isn’t necessarily an exact science as far as skin types, time, and intensity of the sun.

Also, the number differs in the percentage that it blocks, e.g. SPF 50 sunscreens protect against 98 percent of UV rays, while SPF 30 protects against 97 percent. The key to SPF is to reapply often before your skin begins to redden.

Remember, outdoor water activities can lull you into a false cooling state – don’t trust the feel of your skin over the sight of it, i.e. you can’t always feel your skin burn (yikes)!

Sunscreen Can Be Water-Resistant-But Never Waterproof

Speaking of water-based outdoor activities – It’s good to buy a water-resistant sunscreen. This will provide some protection when you’re in the water, but the best protection is to reapply sunscreen frequently. Most doctors or dermatologists recommend that all water-resistant sunscreens should be reapplied after 40 minutes of swimming. The same goes for sweating.

What’s Best?

So how do you pick a good sunscreen? Do you choose one with a high SPF or a low SPF? Inorganic or organic? Water-resistant or regular? At the end of the day, the best sunscreen will be the one that you will put on and reapply. Pick a sunscreen that is comfortable, has a decent SPF, is water-resistant, and works with your skin type.

Research ALL your products before purchasing, and most importantly – have fun this summer!