Today, May 1st, is the beginning of Skin Cancer Awareness Month. What better way to kick it off than by responding to a viewer question about what the best sunscreen is, since effective protection from damaging sun rays is so critical in our fight to prevent and control skin cancer. She asked me specifically to tell her which sunscreens offer the best protection. You'll be very surprised and pleased to hear the simplicity of the answer.
So, is the best sunscreen determined by the ingredients, like newer "chem-free" zinc oxide or titanium dioxide? Or even by special anti-aging ingredients they add to the sunscreen so you get dual benefits? Or, is it by the type of vehicle it's in, like a lotion vs a cream vs a gel? Or, does it depend on the UVB rating, called "SPF", which stands for Sun Protection Factor and tells you about sunburn protection? Or, is it whether it has UVA protection, since it's UVA that contributes most powerfully to skin cancer as well as premature skin aging, called "photoaging". Or, is it based on any other special features and benefits?
If you've been watching DermTV, you know that any sunscreen you use must have an SPF of at least 15, with UVA or broad spectrum protection. But that still doesn't narrow things down as you'll find hundreds of sunscreens on the shelves of your local stores. But remember, I did just say the answer is simple. And it is!
The best sunscreen is very simply the one you like to use.
As with all skincare products, you're much more apt to use them if you like the way they feel when you apply them, which can even include feeling like they're not there after they're applied. And also the ease of application - how they spread and finish on your skin.
You see, the two main reasons sunscreens fail is because you don't use enough at each application, and equally important, because you don't reapply them immediately after swimming, sweating, and otherwise, every 2-3 hours. And that even includes the water resistant sunscreens.
The reason that finding and effective sunscreen is so easy is because in the United States, the FDA oversees sunscreen labeling and efficacy very strictly. So an SPF 30 from two different companies is going to give you identical protection from sun burn. And sunscreens labeled with "UVA protection" or "broad spectrum" protection from two different companies will protect you equally from UVA induced skin cancer and photo-aging.
So if the best sunscreen is the one you like to use, that simply means pick any sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 which also has UVA or broad spectrum protection, and it should offer you the protection you need, as long as you apply enough and reapply it frequently, 365 days a year.
You see, the best sunscreen really is the one you like the best.