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How to Pick the Best Sunscreen: 7 Tips

Posted by Blue Haven Pools & Spas on May 23, 2016 5:17:49 PM

What to seek for maximum skin protection in and around your pool

While enjoying your swimming pool with friends and family, it’s easy to get caught up in the all the fun and relaxation and forget about guarding your skin against the sun. Before spending the day in or around the pool and patio, make sure everyone is using an effective sunscreen that blocks harmful rays and stays put even in the water.

Sunscreen, of course, helps shield skin from the sun’s powerful, harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. First, it’s important to understand that there are two kinds of UV rays that are potentially dangerous: UVA and UVB. (The sun also emits UVC rays, but their short wavelength is blocked by Earth’s ozone layer.)

Without the right sunblock, prolonged exposure to UVA and UVB rays can result in sunburns, wrinkles, and sun poisoning. Worse yet, it can leave you with higher odds of developing skin cancer!

Use the right kind of sunscreen and a product that fits your needs. 

So, whenever you plan to swim and lounge at your backyard resort, proper precaution is a must. Knowing how sunscreen works can help you better understand how to choose the best product.

Sunscreen comes in many forms, such as gels, sticks, sprays, and lotions. Additionally, there are formulations marketed specifically for the face, as well as those advertised for children.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the brands and options—each claiming they offer the best protection. With all the choices out there, how do you know which one is best for you and your family? Here are a few tips for selecting an effective product and the reasons why.

1. Find sunblock with full or broad UV spectrum protection.

You need to defend against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays have the longest wavelength, which allows them to reach considerably deeper into our skin. Persistent exposure to UVA radiation often causes wrinkles and other premature skin alterations, such as photoaging, which makes skin appear to age early. The damage often appears in the form of wrinkles, uneven skin tone and patches, and premature age spots on the hands, arms, face, back, and/or shoulders. 

Shorter in length than their UVA counterpart, UVB rays can reach only our skin’s surface—vs. actually penetrating it. But here’s the bad news: Short-wave UVB rays can burn skin! After turning red, skin is left with a painful sunburn that eventually peels and may blister. Sunburns—especially those experienced in childhood—set the stage for long-term skin damage and greater susceptibility to skin cancer.

Because both UVA and UVB rays can increase chances of developing deadly skin cancer, protecting skin from them is imperative. To do so, look for product labels that say “full spectrum” or “broad spectrum”. These sunscreens are designed to minimize the ability of both kinds of UV radiation to reach and penetrate your skin.

2. Choose the right sun protection factor (SPF).

When selecting an effective product, a high SPF is paramount! Unfortunately, those SPF levels we see advertised can be confusing. What do they really mean?

First, understand that SPF does not refer to a product’s ability to block UVA rays—only the UVB ones. Simply, SPF measures approximately how long a sunscreen can prevent UVB rays from causing skin to redden or burn. 

In theory, if your unprotected skin takes 10 minutes to start turning red or burn in the sun, then an SPF sunscreen of 30 can allow you to remain up to 30 times longer, or 300 minutes. Now, that’s the THEORY. However, in the real world, this is not always the case.

Certain variables impact a product’s real-life SPF performance. Key among them are sweat, water, your skin type, and certain medications that sensitize skin to sunlight. Let’s look at how these variables come into play on a practical basis in knocking SPF’s effectiveness.

No matter how high the SPF may be, sweat and water can rinse it away if the formulation is not water resistant. Those with very fair skin will burn quicker than those with darker complexions.

Then, there are medications that don’t mix with the sun. Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs make people more susceptible to UV radiation. When the rays interact with the chemicals in these medications, a reaction, called photosensitivity, may occur. Photosensitivity can make skin more vulnerable to sunlight and more easily develop rashes, blistering, or severe sunburns.

To further illustrate, let’s compare two SPF levels. Manufacturers will list an SPF 100, but that rating does not mean it’s twice as effective as an SPF 50. It means the SPF 100 blocks 99% of burning UVB rays, whereas an SPF 50 blocks 98%.

The one-percent difference may seem minimal, but not when you fully grasp the meaning behind it. Here’s why: If someone believes they can slather on an SPF 100, and then stay in the sun longer with the ultra-high protection, they can wind up with a serious sunburn they never saw coming.

The takeaway here: Avoid being misled by a high SPF listing. Don’t let it make you feel invincible to sunlight for the day. Various factors impact SPF performance, and even in ideal scenarios, no product can ensure 100% UV protection.

So when you’re at the store facing an aisle of sunscreen choices, what SPF is the magic number? For effective UVB protection, experts previously recommended SPF 15. However today, the advice is for one between 30 and 50. To learn more, check out and the American Academy of Dermatology.

3. Go for a water-resistant formulation.

Choosing a sunscreen that can stand up to H20 and perspiration allows you to spend time in the pool without worrying about your protection quickly washing off. 

Keep in mind: Product options are not waterproof—but rather, water-resistant. These sunscreens list an SPF for guarding against UVB rays, and they will also provide another rating for water-resistance. This number will be either 40 or 80; it refers to how many minutes the product is designed to remain effective once someone begins sweating or goes into the water.

These versions will have “water-resistant” or “sport” on the package. Because they spend so much time outside exercising and sweating, many athletes use these forumulations. But you don’t have to be training for the Olympics to use water-resistant sunblock; they work great for anyone swimming for fun or perspiring from just lying out in the hot sun.

A note of caution: Buying water-resistant sunscreen is only part of the equation to keeping your skin safe as possible. Using it correctly is the other part. If you’re in the water or sweating for an extended amount of time, make sure you follow the bottle’s directions, and reapply often.

4. Check the type of sunscreen and its ingredients.

While an SPF number provides an indication of how well the product defends against burning UVB, what about the other radiation—UVA? Nowhere on a sunscreen label will you see a similar kind of rating. So how do you gauge a product’s ability to fight off harmful UVA rays? 

The answer lies in the list of what goes in the bottle. There are certain ingredients that provide clues to how well a sunblock shields skin from those long-wave rays.

In evaluating ingredients, the first step is understanding that sunscreens fall into two product categories: Physical and chemical. The ingredients make the difference, and some sunscreens are hybrids that use compound found in both categories.

Physical sunscreens use minerals like zinc oxide and titanium oxide. These rest on the skin’s surface and create a physical barrier that reflects or scatters the rays off the skin.

Major advantages with physical sunscreens are how they tend to be less irritating and take effect immediately upon application. A minor downside is they can leave a somewhat chalk-like finish on the skin.

Chemical sunscreens repel harmful UV using another approach. The gel, mist, liquid, or lotion absorbs into the skin, where they buffer incoming rays to prevent deeper penetration into skin.

Common compounds in chemical products include avobenzone, ecamsule, homosalate, octisalate, octinoxate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. To work well, these sunscreens must be applied about a half hour before going outside. Doing so gives them enough time to seep into the outer layer of your skin.

5. Buy separate products for your face and body.

Everyone’s skin is different, but faces are usually much more sensitive than everything below the neck. For those with skin allergies, sensitive skin, or conditions like acne or rosacea, the ingredients in some sunscreens meant for the body can wreak havoc on their face.

With this in mind, you can appreciate why your face needs a unique product. For this reason, manufacturers produce distinct formulations for faces and bodies.

A sunscreen created for the more delicate facial skin is ideal. Unlike their counterparts made for the rest of the body, many facial sunscreens are hypoallergenic, which makes them much easier on skin prone to irritation.

Suffer from acne? Look for facial sunscreens marked “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic”. They are likely to be free of oils or preservatives that can trigger a breakout or clog pores. Some brands use octyl salicylate; while it sounds scary, it’s a form of salicylic acid—a popular pimple treatment which happens to have a second talent: helping ward off UVB.

Now, if you find yourself in a situation where all you have to use is the body formulation, by all means, use it on your face. Isn’t it better to run the risk of some minor irritation from one-time sunblock use—versus the known consequences UV radiation?

6. Find a sunscreen designed for young children.

A note about newborns and infants:
For several reasons, experts are split on using sunscreen on babies under six months old. To learn more and get tips on sun-protection guidelines for newborns and infants, visit:

It’s not always easy to get kids to wear sunscreen, but they must! Their thinner, developing skin is more sensitive to UV rays, so ample protection is crucial.

The myriad of sunscreen options include ones conceived specifically for children. But is this just marketing hype? After all, the active ingredients in both adult and child versions are the same, and both do the job of minimizing the amount of UV absorption. If an adult version provides the same defense, do you really need to buy a children’s formulation?

Yes, you do.

Kid-friendly products have a real, meaningful difference from the adult versions. Since children’s skin is more delicate, gentle formulations are needed. Toward this end, products meant for the little ones usually contain fewer irritating chemicals.

In addition, some of these youth-targeted sunscreens are designed to bet tear- or sting-free. Look for products that are alcohol-free or state “tear-free” or “sting-free” on the label.

An added benefit is that a kinder, gentler formula might make applying sunscreen on your children more comfortable for them—and with cooperative kids, the process might also be easier on you. That can help, as it’s critical to make sure your children always wear sunscreen.

7. Try avoiding sunscreen in aerosol form.

Spray-on products are convenient for those hard-to-reach areas on your back. However, they have drawbacks.

The biggest one is accidental inhalation. If you happen to take a whiff of the spray while applying it, your lungs may react from the chemicals. Sunscreen ingredients can trigger an asthma attack or aggravate breathing for those with respiratory conditions. And they should never be used for children.

The other downside is a chance for poor coverage. Two ways can make this happen. Though simple to apply, spray leaves open possibilities to miss spots that are hard to see. If you fail to rub it in after spraying, the lack of sensation is the root of the problem.

With a stick-form sunblock, you apply it with direct pressure; with a gel or lotion you use with your fingers. You can feel both, and for body parts not easily visible, this sense of touch serves as a guide for achieving coverage.

On the other hand, mist has little sensation. You can’t accurately feel the product going on your skin or how much. Even if the spray manages to hit all body parts, it’s hard to gauge how much product is going on. The result could be areas with thin coverage. In either scenario, your skin is more vulnerable to UV rays.

Should you find yourself in a situation where an aerosol sunblock is your only option, by all means, use it. Spray is still much better than nothing at all. However, instead of spraying the product onto your skin, spray it directly into your hands, and apply to your skin as you would a lotion. Doing so prevents a mistaken inhalation or overlooking some areas of skin.

As you relax in the sun, applying sunscreen might not be on your mind. Or, it might be when you go outside at first, but not a couple of hours later—when it’s time for a fresh application. However, it’s an absolute must to help keep your skin healthy skin and protected from painful burns, sun poisoning, long-term damage, and skin cancer.

Your patio and pool create a backyard entertainment center, and that means time in the sun. Make sure everyone has proper skin protection, and go have some fun!

To learn more about sun protection, visit:

Topics: Fitness/Exercises, Backyard Entertaining, Health & Safety, Health & Lifestyle


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