What kind of sunscreen do I have to use to protect my skin properly?
There's no doubt, sunscreens are an invaluable tool to diminish sunburns risk and skin cancer burden.
Everyone who's outdoors should protect the skin with these products but, with such a wide variety available in the market, which one is the best choice?
The answer to this question is not easy because there is not just one but several effective sunscreens brands and formulations, furthermore, those fitting someone's requirements not necessarily will be good for us, everything depends on individual needs, exposition time, and sun exposition pattern.
Then, instead of a given product, formulation or brand, the best way to choice the best sunscreen for your need must be based on your individual needs as well product key features, on this regard, it's important to keep in mind the following:
1- Keep in mind the spectrum
When the skin is exposed to sunlight, the harmful effects come from two different rays, both in the not visible range, UV-A and UV-B (UV=ultraviolet).
UV-A rays are responsible for skin aging and most cell changes leading to skin cancer while UV-B exposure leads to sunburns.
Most sunscreens focus on UV-B to prevent sunburns, providing no protection against UV-A rays.
This is a good choice for short-term, punctual exposures but not enough for long periods of outdoor activities because even when the skin will not get burn, no protection against cellular damage and extracellular matrix due to UV-A rays is provided.
To achieve full UV-A, UV-B protection, is necessary to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen specially formulated to protect the skin from both types of rays. There's no way to differentiate both types of sunscreen, so it's necessary to check the label carefully.
Those stating just "sunscreen" usually provide only UV-B protection while the products with a label claim of "broad spectrum" are formulated for full UV A and B protection.
This is a common term for all sunscreens and most people talk about it ignoring its meaning and how to interpret this value.
SPF is the acronym for Sun Protection Factor and its value indicates how much time the treated skin may be exposed to sunlight without getting burn compared with no protection.
The value goes from 0 (no protection) up to 50 and even 70, being recommended as a proper protection a SPF between 30 and 50.
Values below 30 provide almost no protection while those over 70 increase product cost dramatically providing almost no extra protection.
It's important to remark that the SPF is not a time value but a measure of how much extra energy (sun exposure) will be required to burn the skin.
Remember that SPF is calculated based on UV-B protection. There's no scale to measure UV-A protection.
This is a key feature when you are going to the beach on when are hunting during a sunny, hot summer day, expecting to sweat a lot.
Waterproof sunscreens last longer than regular ones when exposed to water or sweat however, it will be necessary to re-apply regularly because longer does not mean forever, and sooner or later the water will wash the sunscreen from your skin.
The only difference is that waterproof sunscreens are hydrophobic, so it takes longer to wash them.
Most sunscreens are formulated with tropical, warm scents to make people feeling the summer and beach just from the moment of application.
That's a key marketing feature because scents play a strong psychological role in the decision-making process, at least on this type of product.
However, that's not a good fit for everyone. People suffering from allergies or those using sunscreens for hunting will prefer scent-free sunscreens, after all, if you are going out for deer using a coconut scented sunscreen, deer will identify such smell as usual and probably will stay away from you, considering they are cautious animals.
As you may see, there are critical features to keep in mind when selecting the sunscreen that better fits your needs, and the decision-making process must be based on rationale about the product instead of marketing or advertisement.
However, at the end, the only way to know what works for you is to choose a small selection of products based on the key features meeting your needs and try them in order to identify the one that best fits your persona, unique, individual requirements.