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What Should I Consider When Buying Sunscreen?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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The very first thing you should consider when buying sunscreen is sun protection factor (SPF). This is expressed as a number on the front of the bottle that denotes how much protection the product gives from the sun. The higher the number, the greater the protection. Sunscreen with an SPF of 40, for example, provides roughly 40 times a person’s normal protection from the sun. This is especially important when buying it for children or for those who burn easily.

Another feature to look for is ultraviolet (UV) protection. The label should clearly state that the product protects from UVA and UVB rays. These are the rays from the sun that cause damage and sunburn. A good sunscreen should protect the wearer from both kinds of rays.

If you will be swimming or playing sports while wearing the sunscreen, look for one that is waterproof and/or sweatproof. This product will stay on longer between applications if you gets wet or sweat a great deal. These are usually clearly marked and sometimes say something like “sports formula” on the label.

Look on the product label for any substances you are allergic to. Most sunscreen is designed so that anyone can use it, but some products contain ingredients that may trigger an allergic reaction. Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) used to be found in many sunscreens, but few still use it. If any product causes your skin to feel itchy or if it becomes red and scaly, stop using it. It's a good idea to smell the sunscreen before buying it because some are heavily perfumed, which not everyone likes.

Price and size should also be considered when choosing a sunscreen. Choose a bottle large enough for a couple of people on a trip to the beach or to the pool. Some brands come in large bottles, and since they do less marketing, they are consequently less expensive. Brand really doesn’t matter too much, as long as it works properly and does not trigger an allergy.

Sunscreen should be applied about 20 minutes before sun exposure to every part of the body that will receive sun, including the ears and face. It should be reapplied about every 90 minutes if you're not swimming, or about every 45 minutes if you are swimming or sweating. Sunscreen should be applied liberally, and you can enhance the product’s effects by staying under a beach umbrella and wearing a hat. The scalp can sunburn easily, and a cap or hat can prevent this.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, about one million cases of basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year, and over 54,000 Americans will develop malignant melanoma. Nearly 10,000 people in America will die from skin cancer. One of the best ways to protect exposed skin from sun damage and possible subsequent cancer is to use sunscreen.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WiseGeek. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By drtroubles — On May 17, 2011

Do people with lighter tone skin have to use more sunscreen than those with darker, or olive toned skin?

My wife and I both have different skin tones and are wondering if we should just use the same SPF or if we should buy a different one for each of us.

On that note, does anyone know if those with darker skin are less prone to getting skin cancer?

I am curious about if whether this kind of cancer is more problematic for fair skinned individuals or if it is the same across the board.

By Sara007 — On May 16, 2011

Using sunscreen is a must for everyone. For the ladies out there, if you don't feel happy about slathering sunscreen on everyday, there are lots of products you can purchase that already include sun protection.

For your face, a lot of foundation now comes with sunscreen included. You can also find it in lip gloss.

For your body, there are plenty of lotions to choose from that can replace your regular products.

While most of these sunscreen added products are protective enough for the beach, they are great for everyday exposure. I prefer doing it this way, as it makes it much harder to forget to apply my sunscreen.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WiseGeek. With...
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