How to Choose the Best Sunscreen for You


How to choose the best sunscreen for you.


Now that we all agree a daily sunblock is essential (consider it your No. 1 anti-ager), the question remains: “Which one?” Confronted with an ever-growing sea of options, each touting a different SPF count and complicated-sounding ingredients, how do you determine which formula is right for you? Just in time for Memorial Day weekend and its countless sunny pursuits, New York dermatologists Dr. Debra Jaliman and Dr. Josh Zeichner share their expertise with VIOLET GREY and demystify the increasingly esoteric sunblock market.

Their six key lessons, below.

What to Know: “Chemical sunscreens have ingredients that absorb UV light, turn it into heat and prevent it from passing into the skin,” says Zeichner. “The physical ones have ingredients that create a layer on the skin and reflect UV light away from it.”   

What to Do: Look at your sunscreen’s list of active ingredients. If you spy a slew of names ending in “enzone” (oxy, avo, et al.), it’s chemical, while components like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide mean it’s physical.  

What’s Right for You: While many chemical blockers also contain physical ingredients, those with extremely sensitive skin or a condition like rosacea or eczema should opt for a 100 percent physical formula.

VIOLET Recommends: For chemical, La Mer The Reparative Face Sun Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 30; for physical, Soleil Toujours Face Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 45

What to Know: An SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number indicates how long a person wearing the sunblock can stay in the sun without burning. “So if you could stay in the sun for one minute without burning without sunscreen, with an SPF 30 you could stay in the sun for 30 minutes,” explains Jaliman.

What to Do: Always look for sunscreens labeled “broad spectrum” — that means they protect against both UVA (cancer-causing) and UVB (sunburn-causing) rays. “I recommend [and so does the American Academy of Dermatology] at least an SPF 30 or even higher,” says Zeichner. “The average person applies less than half the amount of sunscreen recommended and therefore the SPF gets diluted out, so starting with a higher SPF to begin with can compensate somewhat for this.”

What’s Right for You: For some, an SPF 50 should be the minimum. According to Jaliman, this group includes anyone who is sun-sensitive (due to a condition like lupus or medicinal prescriptions like tetracycline or Accutane) or tends to burn easily (blondes, redheads and people with blue eyes).

VIOLET Recommends: For SPF 30, La Mer The Reparative Body Sun Lotion; for SPF 50, Soleil Toujours Mineral-Based Sunscreen Continuous Mist Broad Spectrum

What to Know: When it comes to sunscreen efficacy, application matters immensely. Physical sunscreens are effective immediately upon application, while chemical ones require at least 20 minutes to fully absorb; that means always plan to apply before getting dressed to ensure full coverage (arms, shoulders) and ample time for absorption..  

What to Do: For the body, allot at least a shot-glass-size portion of sunscreen and, for the face, a tablespoon. Reapply every two hours (more if you’re swimming or sweating). “Chemical blockers lose their effect as they continue to react to sunlight, and physical blockers will clump,” explains Zeichner.

What’s Right for You: The type of sunscreen you use (cream, spray, stick) will impact how you apply it. “On the body, sprays should be held one to two inches from the skin, sprayed until the area glistens and then rubbed in,” says Zeichner. “Sticks should be applied back and forth for four passes on the same area.” Because creams tend to be a bit thicker than sprays Jaliman advises starting with the former and using the latter for reapplication. “And never ever spray sunscreen directly on your face; spray it in your hand then apply to face,” she adds.

What to Know: Many sunscreens have spiffed up their formulas with skin-care ingredients. “Now we are seeing sunscreens that also help protect the skin and minimize the effects of free-radical damage,” adds Zeichner.
What to Do: Look for sunblocks that include DNA repair enzymes (which address skin cell DNA damaged by UV light), antioxidants (which decrease free-radical damage from the sun), and halt infrared radiation. “Infrared radiation penetrates through the ozone layer and can contribute to facial pigmentation and collagen damage,” explains Zeichner.

VIOLET Recommends: ReVive Intensite Creme Lustre Day Firming Moisture Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen

What to Know: Areas that we tend to forget like the scalp, lips and right around the eyes are sensitive and quick to burn. “The lower lip especially is at risk for UV damage and the development of skin cancers,” adds Zeichner.

What to Do: For the scalp, use an SPF gel or spray (or better yet, wear a hat). For the lips and area around the eyes, Jaliman suggests opting for an SPF stick. “It won’t run and get into your eyes,” she says. “I also like wraparound sunglasses with UV 400 blocking lenses for eye protection.”

VIOLET Recommends: La Prairie Anti-Aging Eye Cream, Soleil Toujours Mineral-Based Sunscreen Continous Mist Broad Spectrum SPF 30.

What to Know: While they don’t take the place of regular sunscreen, adding certain supplements into your diet can add an extra layer of protection.

What to Do: “I always recommend the pill Heliocare, which has a high concentration of antioxidants that helps prevent UV damage,” says Jaliman. “Or there are helioplex supplements which contain polypodium leucomotas extract and are shown to provide extra protection around an SPF 5,” says Zeichner.

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