How to Choose The Best Sun Protection For Your Skin

How to Choose The Best Sun Protection For Your Skin

“Don’t forget the sunscreen!”

Most of the time you remember to throw it into your bag as you head to the beach, pool or BBQ. If not, you make a pit stop on the way. But do you know what you’re buying? Why are some sun protection products called "sunscreen" and others "sunblock?" Why do some sunblocks leave a white haze?

We’ve got the answers just in time for the summer!

Sunscreen Vs Sunblock

Although "sunscreen" and "sunblock" are often used interchangeably, sunblock is only accurate for mineral-based sun protection products. Mineral-based formulas create a physical barrier on your skin and reflect the sun rays away from your body. Sun protection products that use chemicals are sunscreens. They protect the skin by absorbing sun rays and then turning them into heat which is then released from your skin. 

Obagi Mineral Sunblock

Why Does Sunblock Make My Face White?

Mineral sunblocks contain the white colored minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Neither are absorbed by the skin so they "sit" on the skin's outer layer and reflects the sun. Zinc oxide is insoluable in water and opaque. Titanium dioxide is luminous, which gives it its excellent reflective properties. Some sunblocks are very white - picture lifeguards with white stripes under their eyes and on their noses. Some sunblocks are formulated to dry clear like Obagi Mineral Sun Shield.

Chemical sunscreens can be more transparent because they are absorbed into the skin.

Obagi Sunscreen Product Images

Mineral/Physical Sunscreen Active Ingredients

  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide

Chemical Sunscreen Active Ingredients

  • Oxybenzone
  • Avobenzone
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • Octinoxate

The sun is one of the strongest sources of UVA and UVB waves which are types of electromagnetic radiation that form light waves. UVA waves are longer than UVB rays and are more damaging to skin that UVB rays. 

Other types of electromagnetic radiation include microwaves, which are actually sound waves. They cause vibration and not light.

Since UVA rays can cause the most harm to the skin, sun protection factor (SPF) in sunscreens refers to the amount of shielding from UVA rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the epidermis where they can cause long-term skin damage such as premature aging, skin cancer, and hyperpigmentation, among other issues.

UVB rays affect the outer layer of the skin. Signs of overexposure to UVB rays can be seen immediately. UVB rays cause sunburn, darken skin, causing hyperpigmentation like sunspots and freckles.


Learn about top antiaging and skin brigheners in our blog

Skin Care Power Trio: Tretinoin, Vitamin C And Hydroquinone.


Diagram How Visible and IR Rays Penetrate the skinBoth UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), everyone needs sunscreen. An estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

If you haven't always been perfect about applying sunscreen and have sun damage and sun spots, you want to learn about hydroquinone. Hydroquinone 4% strength is a prescription skin product that lightens skin. It's FDA-approved to treat melasma, dark skin patches on the cheekbones and upper lip caused by hormone fluctuations, especially during pregnancy. Melasma is also called "pregnancy mask." 

Obagi Nu-Derm Sunfader is a 2-in-1 product that contains the skin lightener hydroquinone and SPF 15. Add an Obagi anti-aging and skin brightening Vitamin C treatment and you're off to a strong start to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation and fine lines and wrinkles. 

To be sure you have protection from both UVA and UVB rays, choose broad spectrum sunblock. The ADA recommends an SPF of 30 for most everyone and SPF 50 for fair complexions that burn easily.

Did You Know?

You skin needs protection from UVA and UVB rays year-round. Here's why:

  • The sun reflects off surfaces: ice, snow, the sidewalk. It's not the same as a romp on the beach but it's still enough to damage the skin.
  • Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) have been found to emit significant UV rays.1

Woman's Back With SPF Written in SunscreenHow Is SPF Calculated?

SPF represents the amount of time it will take you to burn in the sun when you are using that specific sunscreen.

For example, an SPF 50 rating enables someone who normally burns in the sun after 20 minutes of exposure without any sun protection to stay in the sun for 600 minutes with the SPF 50 without burning.

To understand how the sun protection you choose can prevent you from burning, use this equation:

Multiple the number of minutes (M) you can stay in the sun without burning without any sunscreen by the SPF rating of the sunscreen. Added together they = time you can stay in the sun with that sun protection lotion without burning.

M x SPF = the time you can spend in the sun 

This formula is a general guide. It's up to you to care for your skin. Watch how your skin reacts to the sun and the skin sun protection you are using. Additionally, just because you aren't getting sunburned, it doesn't mean you're safe. No sunscreen is 100% effective. For smarter protection, choose water-resistant sunscreens even if you don't go in the water, especially if you will be exerting yourself. Perspiration can reduce the effectiveness of regular sunscreen. SPF does not account for UVB protection. Choose a broad-spectrum product to ensure you have protection from both UVA and UVB rays.  

For the best possible sun protection, follow these tips:

  • Always use a skin sun protection product
  • Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 am and 2 pm
  • Reapply your sunscreen as directed
  • Protect your head, face, and neck with a hat
  • Protect your eyes with sunglasses
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Use water-resistant sunscreen 

Does Sunscreen Expire?

Yes, sunscreens do not last forever. After 3 years whether your sunscreen has an expiration date or not, you should toss it.

Why Doesn’t My Sunblock Have An Expiration Date?

The FDA mandates that sun protection lotions remain useful for three years. If a product has demonstrated to the FDA that it will provide the full sun protection as claimed for three years, then an expiration date is not required. Since you may not know when the sunscreen was created, it’s best to stick with sunscreens that have a printed expiration date.

What's The Best Sun Care For My Face?

Read the ingredients and manufacturer's description carefully. A good facial sunscreen is non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic and ideally, dermatologist tested.  

Steer clear of products that leave a greasy "film." Quality moisturizing sun products can do the job without clogging pores and can benefit any skin type.

If you have oily skin, applying a moisturizer plus sun protection has more potential to clog pores. One non-comedogenic formula can lower your chances of breaking out and lighten the load on your wallet and beach bag. Dry skin can benefit from added ingredients like algae and ceramides. Vitamins E and C can soothe and heal sensitive skin.

What Are The Best Sun Protection Ingredients?

  • Vitamin E – Skin repair and antioxidant protection
  • Vitamin C – Skin repair, antioxidant protection and skin brightening
  • Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) - Antioxidant protection
  • Ceramides - Contains lipids that helps retain moisture and protect the skin's acid mantle
  • Niacinamide - This form of B3 is touted for its anti-aging and skin lightening properties
  • Algae Extract – Hydration
  • Squalene – Moisturizer
If you have sensitive skin, consider fragrance and PABA-free formulas.

Is PABA Bad For Skin?

Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) is approved by the FDA for use in sun protection lotions. It's effective in blocking UVA rays but it may irritate some skin types and can interact with certain medications.2 If you choose a sunscreen with PABA, be sure to read the label and speak to your doctor first if you are on any medications that are listed as possibly contraindicated.


1 Irfan,Umair. Can Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs Damage? Skin Scientific American (Last visited May 28,2020)


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