Here’s what you likely know about sunscreen: You should definitely be wearing it, but you don't want a lot of crap chemicals in it. And it's a good idea to put it on 15 minutes before you head outside. But here's what you may not know: that you can, in fact, get a quality tan while wearing sunscreen. Or that the old bottle that's been sitting in your bathroom since last summer might not be as effective as you think anymore.
That's because sunblocks remain at their original strengths for about three years. Some packaging includes an expiration date, so check for a date indicating when yours is no longer effective. You might also be confused on the SPF numbers. But Dr. Fayne Frey—the board-certified dermatologist known as the “Ralph Nader of skincare” because of her consumer advocacy and truth-telling—says that the Sun Protection Factor is merely a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays. Those rays contain the radiation that causes sunburns and other skin damage. And sun damage is no joke. It can cause your skin to age faster, bring about pigmentation issues like sun spots and, most importantly, develop into skin cancer—the most common form of cancer.
For optimal protection, Dr. Frey recommends a minimum of 30 SPF. “A broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is recommended for all adults,” she says. You want broad-spectrum because these sunscreens—which provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays—will not only protect against sunburn, but will also reduce the risk of overall skin damage. And it's not just for days at the beach. If you are out in the daylight, then you are exposed to UV rays. Going out on your lunch break or just sitting near a window can be enough exposure and it adds up over time. “After five sunburns your risk of melanoma doubles,” says Dr. Frey. “Frequent tanning and sunburn increase the incidence of skin damage and skin cancer.”
To keep your skin looking and feeling healthy (while preventing that dreaded sun damage), you need to use protection everyday. Especially during the summer. Thankfully, there is a wide range of quality SPF-packed products offering optimal, doctor-recommended coverage that will prevent signs of aging and even shield you from the threat of future skin cancer. Of course, the most important thing when choosing a sunscreen is finding one that you will actually use, so we've put together a round-up of the best options for you to choose from.