Sunscreen tube

Tips for Choosing the Right Sunscreen


By Mariam Mafee, MD, Dermatology Loyola Medicine dermatologist Mariam Mafee, MD

Practicing sun safety is important for all ages and skin types. Repeated sunburns can accelerate premature aging, leading to wrinkled skin, dark spots and rough spots.

More importantly, ultraviolet (UV) sun exposure can cause skin cancers (such as melanoma) to form. In fact, studies have shown that an individual’s risk of developing melanoma doubles if he or she has experienced only five or more episodes of sunburn.

One of the most important precautions you can take against long-term complications from sun damage is to choose the right sunscreen with the appropriate Sun Protection Factor (SPF).

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the SPF number on your sunscreen refers to the amount of time it would take for the sun’s UV radiation to redden your skin when using the product exactly as directed versus the time it would take without using any sunscreen.

In other words, if you apply sunscreen with SPF 30, you should be able to be in the sun without burning for 30 times longer than you would without sunscreen.

The best way to protect your skin is by choosing a sunscreen based on your particular skin type that has an adequate level of SPF to block UV rays. Here are some tips and facts to keep in mind when making this important choice.

Choosing an SPF that Can Maximize Protection

If you want to be as safe as possible, make sure to:

  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30
  • Use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB sunrays
  • Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before sun exposure
  • Apply sunscreen generously. A general rule of thumb is that it takes one ounce (or a handful) of sunscreen to cover your body. Applying less than this will mean that you will not reach the listed SPF on the bottle
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially after sweating or swimming

Understand Your Medications

Regardless of your skin type, you should know that some medications can be photosensitizing – meaning they can increase your risk for sunburn. Some medications that can increase the likelihood for sunburn include:

  • Antihistamines (the class of drugs used to treat allergies)
  • Certain hormonal birth controls
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which treat inflammatory conditions
  • Tetracyclines (antibiotics used to treat infections)

Talk to your doctor if you take any of these medications. You may need to choose a sunscreen with a higher SPF.

Remember the UVA Rays!

UVB rays are generally the most dangerous, but UVA rays are also known to play a role in premature aging and skin cancer formation.

Some organic sunscreens and sunblocks that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can provide all-around protection for UVB and UVA rays.

Look for phrases like multi-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or simply UVB/UVA protection on sunscreen labels.

Mariam Mafee, MD, is a dermatologist at Loyola Medicine and the medical director of Loyola's Skin Cancer and Mohs Micrographic Surgery Center. Her clinical interests include Mohs micrographic surgery and skin cancer.

Dr. Mafee earned her medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She completed her residency in dermatology at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County and a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery and cutaneous oncology at University of Wisconsin, Madison.

You can make an appointment to see Dr. Mafee today by calling 888-584-7888 or visiting our Virtual Care page.