OK. So we know we need a sunscreen with SPF 30+ and it needs broad-spectrum coverage. But we all know that when we walk into the drugstore or up to the cosmetics counter, there seem to be a BA-JILLION different sunscreens, and they all have different price points. How do you even start to choose?
Here are a few pointers that we have picked up along the way.
1. First, with sunscreen, you generally get what you pay for. You don't want to pick a sunscreen from the dollar store, nor do you want to buy the absolute cheapest sunscreen at the pharmacy. Generally speaking, we have found that the brand-name sunscreens are less irritating and more effective than the off-brand or store-brands. Aveeno, Neutrogena, Vanicream, La Roche Posay, and California Baby Super Sensitive are all easily available brands with great track records for performance.
2. Second, the mid-range sunscreens generally all do a great job at exactly what they are supposed to do -- block the sun's harmful rays. However, they may not be cosmetically elegant or they may not be appropriate for certain special situations.
3. At the higher price points, sunscreens are being designed to solve a specific problem for a special situation. They are cosmetically more elegant and therefore are more appealing for everyday use. They may be designed for sensitive skin, or acne-prone skin, or for children. So although the mid-priced sunscreens and higher-priced sunscreens generally have the same efficacy (are equally effective at blocking the sun), the specialty brands often offer particular advantages for special situations.
4. And then of course you have to choose whether you want a lotion, a cream, a spray, a sport stick, etc.
So, what should you pick? And the answer, of course, is that it depends. You need to choose your sunscreen based on how you are going to use it. Here are a few common scenarios:
You are going on a beach vacation. You don't have any particular concerns (no allergies or sensitivities, for example), but you need something that is water-resistant that you can reapply frequently throughout the day.
We would recommend an SPF 50 or higher in this situation, as the sun at the beach can be particularly intense. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen and choose a large quantity. Each person needs 1 ounce for each application for full-body coverage. For one person spending 8 hours at the beach, you need approximately a 6 ounce bottle! Look for water-resistance and consider whether a lotion or a spray will be easier for you to apply. (Sprays should not be used on young children). In this situation, a Neutrogena Sport or Coppertone Sport would be a great choice, as would Blue Lizard.
You have acne-prone skin but you know you need a sunscreen to wear every day on your face, neck, and hands. You are a working professional, so you don't want something greasy or something that smells like coconut. You also are approaching mid-life so anti-aging is a concern.
This is a scenario in which it would be worth considering a higher-end sunscreen that has a smooth, dry finish, won't clog your pores, has a pleasing fragrance, layers well under make-up, and has anti-aging properties as well. Our favorite skincare lines have answered this particular need well -- EltaMD is a skincare line with many elegant sunscreens that are perfect for blemish-prone and sensitive skin. They also contain niacinamide for its calming properties.
You have really sensitive skin and you cannot tolerate chemical sunscreens -- in fact, you have broken out in an itchy rash that lasted for days the last time you tried a drugstore sunscreen. But you have fair skin and blue eyes and know you need good protection. What are your options?
Thankfully, there are many sunscreens available for people with sensitive skin. Blue Lizard is a sunscreen brand out of Australia that uses physical blockers and is great for people with sensitive skin who are on vacation or who exercise outdoors and need reliable, consistent protection. For patients who need a product for every day usage, SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion and EltaMD Pure are two great options. Vanicream and California Baby Super Sensitive are two drugstore options that are great for children with sensitive skin.
You know you need to wear sunscreen on your face every day, but you hate skincare products. You want to apply one thing only to your skin every morning. What is one product that will take care of everything?
You need a BB Cream! While we prefer that patients apply a dedicated sunscreen first, then apply their cosmetic coverage, we understand "product fatigue" and the need to simplify our daily routines. In this situation, we recommend EltaMD Elements or EltaMD UV Daily Tinted. Both of these products have excellent spf, are tinted, and provide great coverage. You can then set the product with a mineral powder and you are ready to go!