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We're currently in the thick of summer, which means applying sunscreen is more crucial than ever (however, sunscreen should be worn every single day throughout the year, rain or shine!).
Sunscreen has its cosmetic benefits, you know, preventing wrinkles, dark spots and burns. But more seriously, it helps to decrease the risk of developing skin cancer.
Choosing the right sunscreen can be a challenge. First, there are so many out there in the market. Second, there is a lot of information about sun protection to wrap your head around, which leads to a lot of questions when you're looking at a bottle: What is SPF exactly? What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays? What ingredients are the most effective? What does broad spectrum mean?
To help find the best sunscreen for your needs, ET Style tapped a celebrity dermatologist and esthetician to explain everything you need to know about the most important step in skincare.
Read their expertise ahead.
Difference Between UVA & UVB Rays
There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. UVA rays cause long-term damage such as wrinkles and aging skin by breaking down collagen and elastin. UVB rays cause immediate damage such as sunburn (think A for aging and B for burn). UVB causes skin cancer faster than UVA.
"UVA is present all day long: it is a photo-aging wavelength and can cause skin cancer, but not as efficiently as UVB, which peaks between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.," Dr. Anna Guanche, a board-certified dermatologist and celebrity beauty expert, explains (Olivia Culpo is a patient)."[UVB] burns the skin more quickly and mutates cells more, thus causing skin cancer."
Sunscreens labeled as broad spectrum protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Thus, you should ideally always use a broad spectrum sunscreen.
What Is SPF?
SPF stands for sun protection factor and the number after it indicates the ability of the sunscreen to protect your skin from UVB rays before it burns.
"[The number] is a multiplier times your own skin's sun defense," says Dr. Guanche.
For example, SPF 15 means it has 15 times as much protection as your natural skin's defense. In other words, if your skin burns in 10 minutes, an SPF 15 would prolong it to 150 minutes.
Is a Higher SPF Number Better For You?
Not necessarily. Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician (Demi Lovato and Lili Reinhart are clients) and founder of her eponymous skincare line, says SPF numbers over 30 aren't as effective as you might think. (SPF 50 provides less than 2% more protection than SPF 30!)
"The real secret to protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is to reapply often and generously -- it’s really not the SPF number that matters and there is a very minimal improvement in protection as the number increases above 30. High SPF numbers like SPF 100 can give a false sense of protection and consumers may not apply it generously enough. Plus, if you’re someone with sensitive skin, the higher SPF number may contain more chemical additives, resulting in skin reactions and irritations."
There are two types of sunscreen: physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.
Physical (or mineral) sunscreen contains either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
"These minerals coat the skin, reflecting and refracting UV rays so they are not able to penetrate the skin or cause damage to the DNA of skin cells," Dr. Guanche shares.
"It is often referred to as a physical blocker," Rouleau adds. "Physical sunscreens protect from UVA and UVB rays and are naturally broad spectrum. Physical sunscreens also protect skin as soon as applied, no need to wait until it dries. Plus, they last longer when in direct UV light (but not when sweating or swimming) and they have a longer shelf life."
One thing to note, physical sunscreen is thicker in formula, which can cause you to sweat more, so reapplying is key. It can also often leave a white-ish cast on the surface.
Chemical sunscreen contains organic, carbon-based compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone, which creates a chemical reaction that absorbs and converts UV rays into heat and releases the heat from the skin.
It is usually less thick in texture than physical sunscreen, making it more "cosmetically elegant."
"Generally, chemical sunscreens are what we call 'cosmetically elegant,' because they are less greasy, less white and shiny and less likely to block the pores, although newer micronized mineral formulas are cosmetically elegant as well," Dr. Gaunche says.
Rouleau points out two important things:
"[Chemical sunscreen] can actually cause an increase in brown spots and discoloration by increasing the skin’s internal temperature. Also, the chemical ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate have been banned in Hawaii for posing a risk of degrading coral reef when worn while swimming in the ocean. (This applies to water-resistant beach sunscreens only and not daily use sunscreens or makeup with sunscreen.)"
Dr. Gaunche also recommends avoiding PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) in sunscreen.
Browse through our recommended physical and chemical sunscreens ahead -- all broad spectrum.
This mineral sunscreen (a favorite of Kourtney Kardashian!) contains micronized zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and hyaluronic acid to protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays while hydrating the skin. The gentle, oil-free formula is a safe choice for those who are prone to breakouts. $32 at Dermstore
Whether you're indoors or outdoors (it's water resistant for 80 minutes), this multi-award-winning broad spectrum chemical sunscreen is perfect for both the face and body. As the name suggests, the texture is soft and melts into the skin. Note: this contains oxybenzone. $36 at La Roche-Posay
Looking for a clean option? Ren's Clean Screen is a vegan, oxybenzone-free and silicone-free formula packaged in a recyclable tube. It's made with naturally-derived zinc oxide, yellow passion fruit seed extract to protect from pollution and free radical damage and rice starch that absorbs oil for matte skin that still feels and looks bouncy. Great for sensitive skin! $36 at Sephora
If you prefer a minimal skincare routine, try this two-in-one product from Supergoop! This chemical sunscreen-and-moisturizer hybrid nourishes the skin and doesn't leave a greasy film, while protecting against UVA and UVB rays, blue light, infrared radiation and pollution. It is labeled as PA+++, which means, according to The Klog, it takes eight to 16 times longer for the skin to tan compared to skin without the sunscreen applied. $38 at Nordstrom
A tinted sunscreen that doesn't pill! This mineral option contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for full UV protection. The lightweight formula blends in seamlessly as the tint disappears -- no white cast and no aggressive rubbing needed. $38 at Macy's
Ideal for those with dull skin, this hydrating chemical SPF moisturizer gives a glowy, brightening effect sans a slick finish. Its "intelligent drone technology" claims to convert visible light to help boost your complexion's natural luminosity. One of the ingredients includes matcha tea, which is a great source of antioxidants to defend against pollution. The texture doesn't feel heavy and wears nicely under makeup. $65 at Dermstore
Each product has been selected, and each product’s style has been reviewed, by our editorial team; however, we may receive affiliate commissions from some links to products on this page. Prices listed are subject to change by the retailer.