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mom applying sunscreen to her son’s face while at the pool

Skincare Basics: How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

Fresh cut grass, campfires, and sunscreen are the official smells of summer. It’s impossible to open a bottle of sunscreen and not be transported to memories of warm weather, sunshine, and, unfortunately, sunburns. Have you ever applied sunscreen and still gotten a burn? This month, we’re sharing everything we know about sunscreen so you can use it like a pro to protect yourself from skin cancer.


Which is better, chemical or physical sunscreen?

There are two common categories of sunscreen: chemical and physical. The difference between the two is how they protect the skin.

Chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin and, in turn, absorb the sun’s UV rays to prevent burns and cellular damage. Common chemical sun-blocking ingredients are avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. Most water and sweat-resistant sunscreens in the drugstore use chemical ingredients. People often like these sunscreens because they rub in easily. However, people with sensitive skin may experience irritation from chemical formulas.

Physical, also called mineral, sunblocks sit atop the skin and create a barrier that reflects the sun’s rays to prevent burns and cellular damage. The two FDA approved physical sun-blockers are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Since they don’t absorb into the skin, mineral sunscreens may work better for those with sensitive skin. However, they don’t rub in as easily as chemical sunscreens, and they often leave a white cast.

For most people, one category of sunscreen isn’t necessarily better or worse than the other. Those without skin sensitivities should choose whichever sunscreen is comfortable to wear daily. People who need or want to use a physical sunscreen may want to seek tinted varieties to avoid the white cast.

No matter which type of sunscreen you choose, make sure that it provides broad-spectrum protection. A high-quality sunscreen will block UVA rays (the type that penetrates deep into the skin to cause premature aging and wrinkles) and UVB rays (the kind that hit the surface of the skin and causes burns that can lead to cancer).



In the world of sun protection, there are two rating systems: SPF and UPF.

SPF means sun protection factor and it denotes how long skin can be exposed to UV rays without burning. For example, if someone burns in ten minutes without wearing sunscreen, then using an SPF 15 sunscreen would allow that person to be in the sun 15 times longer without UV damage. However, to achieve the maximum sun protection factor, a person needs to apply sunblock correctly.

UPF means ultraviolet protection factor, and it’s a rating system for physical items, such as hats, shirts, pants, and more. It measures how much of the sun’s UV rays the item blocks — for example, a UPF 50 hat filters out 98% of UV rays. The advantage of UPF clothing is that its strength doesn’t wear off over time like sunscreen. It’s a great option for people who will be outdoors for long stretches of time or for areas like the scalp where it doesn’t make sense to slather sun lotion.

Wearing sunscreen is a great first step in protecting your skin, but to more fully prevent sun damage, you should use a combination of methods. When you’re outside doing yard work, it’s wise to wear sunscreen on all exposed skin, plus a UPF hat and shirt to protect the rest of your skin.


Finding the right facial sunscreen

If you’re like most people, then you’re pickier about your facial sunscreen than your body sunblock. It may take some trial and error to find a formula that feels comfortable, doesn’t cause acne breakouts, and that layers well with your other skincare and makeup products.

If you want to speed up your morning routine, consider purchasing a moisturizer or makeup that has SPF. Bonus: daily sunblock use is a great first step in a basic anti-aging skincare routine.

If you’re not sure where to start your search for the perfect facial sunscreen, get in touch! We’re passionate about healthy skin, and we love helping our patients find the perfect sunscreen for their unique skin type.


Sunscreen for children

Children have more sensitive skin than most adults, plus less ability to produce protective melanin. Parents and caregivers should always put sunscreen on children before they go outside. However, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends keeping infants under six months old out of the sun completely because their skin is too sensitive for even the gentlest mineral sunscreens.

We recommend choosing a high SPF sunblock for children and diligently reapply every 2 hours during dry activities, and every hour while swimming or sweating. While spray and stick formulas are convenient, it’s harder to get uniform coverage, so we also recommend choosing lotion formulas. Manually rubbing them in helps get better coverage and prevent sunburns more effectively.


How much sunscreen do you really need?

If you’ve ever applied sunscreen and still gotten a burn, chances are that you didn’t apply enough or didn’t reapply at the correct frequency. Here are our top tips for effective sunscreen application:

  • An average adult needs two tablespoons of sunscreen for full-body coverage, which is enough to fill a shot glass. Larger and taller adults need even more.
  • For the face, you should use a teaspoon of sunblock, which is about a nickel-sized amount.
  • For best results, put your sunscreen on 10 – 15 minutes before you go out so it can absorb and be ready to block UV rays.
  • If you’ll be swimming or sweating, make sure that you pick a water or sweat-proof variety.
  • Don’t forget to apply to spots like the ears, back of the neck, tops of the feet, and back of the hands!
  • Reapply every two hours during dry activities, and every hour while swimming or sweating excessively.
  • Check your expiration date! If your lotion is outdated, replace it.


Finding your perfect sunscreen

The best sunblock for you is any kind that you can commit to using every day. Whether you’re inside or out, you should be using sunscreen to protect your skin year-round. If you’re struggling to find a sunscreen that you love, get in touch! We love giving product recommendations. While we’re at it, we can even schedule your yearly skin cancer checkup.


For expert skin cancer detection and treatment, choose Cumberland Skin. We would love to assist you on your journey toward healthy skin. If you have questions about choosing the perfect sunscreen, call (615) 237-8320 to schedule your consultation. 


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