Choosing a Sunscreen Product
By Michael J. Visconti, BSc & David Fivenson, MD
November 05, 2019
Category: Uncategorized

Sunscreen is a vital tool in the prevention of skin cancer, photoaging, and worsening of certain light-sensitive skin conditions. Because of this vast application, numerous formulations of sunscreens have been developed to encourage their use, including creams, lotions, gels, sprays, sticks, and powders. In this post, we highlight various formulations of sunscreen available today and discuss their recommended uses (Table).

Before discussing sunscreen formulations, it's important to highlight general sunscreen facts. When choosing a sunscreen, an SPF of 30 blocks ~97% of ultraviolet radiation and is the lowest recommended SPF. Sunscreen products with an SPF of 30 or higher that are also broad-spectrum (blocking multiples types of harmful ultraviolet radiation) and water-resistant are highly recommended.

Table - Various sunscreen formulations and their applications.

Sunscreen Formulations
Formulation Applications
Cream
  • Moisturizing, cosmetically pleasing formulation beneficial for dry skin.
  • Particularly useful for the face (especially if you are prone to dry skin).
Lotion
  • Thin and easily spread - making lotions useful for providing coverage to large body areas.
  • Shot glass rule: it generally requires enough sunscreen to fill a 1.5 ounce shot glass to cover the entire body surface.
Gel
  • Useful in hair-bearing areas (scalp, forearms, lower legs, male chest and back).
  • Shot glass rule applies.
Spray
  • Easy to apply
  • Users often do not apply enough spray sunscreen.
    • Ensure you spray four passes (back and forth, back and forth) to each body region.
    • sunscreen with the skin surface and provide even coverage.
  • Be sure to hold the spray canister close to the skin and use caution in windy conditions in order to promote coverage and avoid inhalation.
Stick
  • Wax or petroleum-based formulation - assisting with water resistance.
  • Most beneficial for the skin around the eyes since this formulation won’t run or drip.
    • Also beneficial for the back of hands (an area of high sun exposure).
  • Apply four passes (back and forth, back and forth) to a skin region.
    • Rub in thoroughly afterwards.
Powder
  • Contain mineral sunscreens only.
  • Beneficial for “touching-up” and reapplying protection to the face (nose, midface, upper forehead) throughout the day since powders can easily be applied over make-up or moisturizers.
    • Generally, not recommended as a lone source of sunc protection.
  • Apply two passes (back and forth) over a skin area for the adequate protection.

 

* Special note on lip protection:
The lips are especially prone to sun damage and may also develop skin cancer. Numerous dual-action lip balms exist providing both moisturization and sun-protection.

Conclusion:
When choosing a sunscreen formulation, it's important to choose one a product that is easiest for you to use so that you will routinely use it and adhere to a sun protection regimen. Despite the importance of sunscreen in protecting yourself from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, no sunscreen formulation is able to block all of the damaging light. Avoiding prime sun-exposure time (10 A.M. to 4 P.M.), wearing sun-protective clothing, and seeking out shaded areas are vital components of sun-protection.

* Disclaimer: This discussion summarizes the look and feel of sunscreen products but does not approach the nature of the active ingredients, which will be covered in another blog post.

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