Your Complete Sunscreen Shopping Checklist: What to Look For

Sun protection is non-negotiable, no matter the season. With the endless options on the market, shopping for sunscreen can feel overwhelming. To ensure you’re adequately protected without the guesswork, we’ve compiled a comprehensive checklist for your next sunscreen purchase. Here’s what to look for:

1. Broad Spectrum Protection

Ensure the label says “Broad Spectrum.” This means it protects your skin from both UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays) sunlight. Protection against the full spectrum of ultraviolet radiation is crucial for preventing skin damage.

2. SPF 30 or Higher

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) indicates the level of protection against UVB rays. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with at least SPF 30, which blocks about 97% of UVB rays. Higher SPFs block slightly more, but no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays.

3. Water Resistance

If you’re planning to swim or expect to sweat, choose a sunscreen labeled “water-resistant.” Note that no sunscreens are completely waterproof or sweatproof. The label should specify whether it remains effective for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating.

4. Cream vs. Spray

Creams are ideal for dry skin and the face, offering more thorough coverage. Sprays are convenient for hard-to-reach areas, like your back, but make sure to apply enough and rub it in for even coverage. Avoid spraying directly on your face; instead, spray on hands and then apply to your face.

5. Skin Type Consideration

  • For sensitive skin: Look for sunscreens with physical blockers (like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) that are less likely to irritate the skin.
  • For acne-prone skin: Opt for oil-free, non-comedogenic formulas that won’t clog pores.
  • For darker skin tones: Consider sheer, tinted formulas to avoid a white cast.

6. Active Ingredients

Familiarize yourself with key active ingredients. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays and typically contain oxybenzone or avobenzone. Physical (mineral) sunscreens scatter and reflect sunlight and contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Some sunscreens combine both types of ingredients for broad-spectrum protection.

7. Expiration Date

Sunscreen loses its efficacy over time. Check the expiration date to ensure you’re getting the maximum protection. If your sunscreen doesn’t have a date, write the purchase date on the bottle and replace it every three years.

8. Environmental Impact

Consider the environmental impact of your sunscreen, especially if you’re using it in or near aquatic environments. Look for reef-safe sunscreens that omit oxybenzone and octinoxate, chemicals known to harm coral reefs.

9. Vitamin D Optimized Formulas

While sun protection is paramount, some sunscreens can inhibit vitamin D synthesis. Some brands now offer formulas that help the skin produce vitamin D while providing sun protection.

10. Additional Features

Some sunscreens offer extra benefits, like antioxidants (which can fight free radical damage) or moisturizers. These can be excellent additions, especially if you have specific skin care needs beyond UV protection.

Armed with this checklist, finding the perfect sunscreen should be a breeze. Remember, the best sunscreen is one you’ll use consistently, so find a formula that fits your lifestyle and wear it every day. Your skin will thank you!