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Birmingham Parent magazine

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sunscreens 101: What You Need to Know

By Hillary Evans, Health & Beauty Blogger      

With all the different choices available to us now, it can be difficult and overwhelming to find a good sunscreen. What you chose may not work well enough or be too greasy. Or you might have sensitive skin and feel as though you can’t wear sunscreen. Here are some tips for choosing sunscreen, but first it is important to understand how sunscreen works.

There are two types of sunscreen: sunscreen and sunblock. Sunscreen typically uses chemical-based ingredients that absorb and neutralize the sun’s rays. Examples of these ingredients are octinoxate, avobenzone and homosalate.
Sunblock uses mineral-based ingredients that deflect, or “bounce off,” the sun’s rays from your skin. There are only two ingredients in sunblock - titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Sometimes sunscreen will contain a combination of the two. Neither of these is better than the other. Those with sensitive skin will find, however, that they will have better luck with sunblock.

The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is how long or how well the sunscreen protects the skin. It means that whatever the number of SPF is, it will protect you for whatever the number of the SPF is times how long it normally it takes you to burn. So, for example, you burn without sun protection after 15 minutes. You wear a sunscreen with SPF 15 and 15 x 15 = 225. So you will be protected for 225 minutes. It is still recommended by most dermatologists to reapply sunscreen after every hour and after sweating or swimming.

It is not proven that any SPF 50 or above is any more effective so don’t feel like you need to slather on SPF 100 when going to the beach. Also, there is no such thing as waterproof or sweat proof sunscreen. Most dermatologists recommend SPF 20 or more for daily exposure. And you need to apply plenty of sunscreen. Having sunscreen built into your moisturizer or makeup will not cut it, because you don’t apply enough to the face to get the benefits of the SPF. Apply your moisturizer, then sunscreen, then whatever makeup you are going to wear.

There are 2 types of UV rays from the sun. There are UVA rays, which are the rays that do long-time damage and cause skin cancer, and UVB rays which are the “burning” rays. Just because you don’t get burned when you are wearing sunscreen does not mean you have enough protection. Make sure it says on the bottle that it is a broad spectrum sunscreen so that you have complete protection.

And don’t ever skip wearing it. You may think you don’t need it for getting the mail or running errands, but the sun exposure adds up. Just 15 minutes of sun exposure a day for a year is the same as sun tanning unprotected for a week!

There are plenty of options of good sunscreen in the drugstore today at all sorts of price points. For sensitive skin, however, Aveeno baby sunblock and Neutrogena’s sunscreens with the “Purescreen” logo are good for sensitive skin that can’t handle most on the market. Remember these tips and you should be fine.

As always, if in doubt, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. 

-         Hillary Evans is a licensed esthetician in Alabama. If you'd like to ask Hillary a question for a blog topic, send you request to

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