Robert Young, MD, Rocky Mountain Dermatology
Summer is the best time of the year for families to spend time outside. It’s also the time of year I get asked the same question every single day: What is your favorite sunscreen? My response is really quite simple, yet it often leaves the person asking without the definitive answer they were looking for. The best sunscreen is the one that you will apply every day, throughout the day.
Sunscreens have come a long way from where they were even a few years ago, which means that the vast majority of brands are reliably effective when used as directed. My favorite reference for comparing the various brands is Consumer Reports, which publishes in-depth ratings of the most commonly used sunscreens every year. Aside from personal preferences including form, fragrance and, perhaps, type of applicator, the most important factors to look for on the label when choosing a sunscreen are at least SPF 30, broad spectrum and water/sweat resistant.
SPF — Sun Protection Factor relates how protective the product is against the UVB rays of the sun and those which most directly correlate with sunburn. The higher the SPF number the longer one can safely enjoy the sun without getting burned. For everyday use, an SPF 30 should be adequate, but if you’re planning a day in the sun it’s best to use an SPF 50. One more fun fact: the often-heard myth that anything above an SPF 30 is irrelevant and a waste of money has been proven false. New data, soon to be published in the medical literature, implies that we can anticipate the available SPF levels of protection to increase even higher.
Broad Spectrum relates to how well the product protects against the UVA rays of the sun. While these rays can also contribute to sunburn, their physical effects are even more insidious as they penetrate deeper into the tissues. UVA rays are most closely associated with early aging, wrinkles, loss of elasticity, age spots and damage to the skin’s immune system.
Water/Sweat Resistant is a relative term since any sunscreen will require reapplication throughout the day in order for it to provide adequate protection and how often it needs to be applied clearly depends on the product and the level of activity involved. Whether your preference is a lotion, cream, gel or spray, please remember to apply an adequate amount and reapply frequently.
My secret: There is no question that for application for the face, my absolute favorite sunscreens are mineral powders such as ‘Sunforgettable’ by Colorscience. It’s light, easy to apply, invisible and super effective. It has the best staying power I’ve ever seen, so it’s fantastic for athletes and outdoor lovers who won’t tolerate sunscreen that melts into the eyes. So yes, I guess I DO have a favorite!