With summer fast approaching, it’s time to pick up a fresh supply of sunscreen. And as always, there are a lot of new products. Perusing the options is sure to raise questions. Does the product go over or under moisturizer? Is mineral sunscreen more effective (and why is it often chalky)? Why do some products leave a white cast on skin, and how can that be avoided?
Here, we’ve got answers to those and other queries.
What strength SPF should I be wearing?
“What we recommend is sticking to a SPF of 30 and reapplying it every two hours,” said Dr. Silvia Mancebo, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in New York. It takes an ounce of sunscreen to cover the entire body, she said, which means taking the product with you if you’re going outside for several hours.
Several new products in handy sizes lend themselves to doing just that, like Ace the Day Face Lotion SPF 30 by EleVen by Venus Williams, a sunscreen line from the tennis star that also includes a recently introduced SPF body lotion, and Cocokind Silk SPF, which has moisturizing banana blossom in its formula.
If you burn easily, wearing a higher SPF sunscreen may seem sensible. Chances are, though, even a very high SPF won’t provide as much added defense against sun damage as you’d think.
According to Carla Burns, the senior director for cosmetic science at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, the actual difference in the amount of added protection typically provided by very high SPFs is minimal. SPF 30 protects against around 97 percent of UVB rays, which cause sunburn, while SPF 50 provides about 98 percent protection, according to the American Cancer Society.
“There’s a common misconception that if you have a SPF 50 and an SPF 100, that 100 is going to give you double the amount of protection, but really it’s very insignificant,” Ms. Burns said.
Of particular concern is the amount of protection higher SPFs offer against UVA rays, which can cause wrinkles, sagging and skin cancer. Last fall, the Environmental Working Group released a study of 51 sunscreens purchased at retailers like CVS and Target. On average, the products, which were tested in a lab but not on people, were found to offer about a quarter of the UVA protection specified by their SPF.
Are mineral sunscreens better than chemical ones?
Mineral sunscreens, with ingredients like zinc oxide, are effective and gentle, even if they bring to mind lifeguards’ noses slathered in white gunk. Several decades ago, zinc oxide was whitening and hard to rub in, but sunscreen formulations have come a long way. “There’s a variety of zinc oxide-based products on the marketplace that rub in streak-free, are not whitening,” Ms. Burns said.
Mario Badescu Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30, for instance, combines zinc oxide with moisturizing hyaluronic acid and glycerin and blends well into the skin.
Are spray sunscreens equally effective?
Spray sunscreens are popular, but it’s tricky to ensure that every bit of skin gets covered. (A reliable method is to spray products in your hands then rub them in.) They are nonetheless appealing, especially for parents. As Shontay Lundy, the creator and founder of Black Girl Sunscreen, put it, “Your kids might not stand still, and it’s easy.” Her company recently introduced BGS Kids Spray & Play, which is SPF 50 and dries quickly when applied. It was created, she said, because of customer demand. There’s also an adult version, Make It Glow, that’s SPF 30.
Another option is Classic Spray SPF 30, introduced in April by the sun brand Vacation. Its scent, with coconut and banana, suggests a poolside cocktail with a tiny paper umbrella on a hot day.
What about SPF oils?
Sunscreen oils have an elegant feel and leave a soft sheen on the skin. “They give a nice hydration,” said Penny Coy, a vice president of merchandising at Ulta Beauty. “They tend to have a really beautiful glow. Who doesn’t want that on your arms and legs?”
A noteworthy new option is Isle Body Oil SPF 30 from Cay Skin, a recently introduced sun-care collection that was founded by the model Winnie Harlow. (Ms. Harlow has vitiligo, a condition that causes patches of skin to lose pigment; her line promises to suit all skin tones and sensitive skin). The oil is pleasantly light and has moisturizers like argan and coconut oils in its formula.
Do I need to worry about sunscreen if I have dark skin?
Everyone should be wearing sunscreen daily. Traditional sunscreens, both chemical and mineral, can leave a white cast on melanated skin, but some newer formulations are designed to blend without streaks on all skin tones. One example is Every. Single. Face. Watery Lotion SPF 50, a recent release from Supergoop.
Is sun protection necessary if I’m inside, working near a window?
“From a window you’re still getting UV exposure, so absolutely I encourage all of my patients who are working from home to put sunscreen on,” said Dr. Jasmine Onyeka Obioha, a dermatologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
It’s important, Dr. Obioha added, to wear sunscreen on a cloudy day because you’re still getting UV exposure even if it’s not bright and sunny.
Does sunscreen go over or under foundation and moisturizer?
Ideally, sunscreen should be the final step in your morning regimen, Dr. Mancebo said, but it’s OK layered between moisturizer and foundation. Several new fluid formulas, like the Silk Sunscreen Hydrating Mineral Shield from Tatcha, lend themselves to layering without feeling too heavy. This one also contains niacinamide to help reduce redness and even skin tone.
My skin’s sensitive. What type of sunscreen should I use?
Some sunscreens can cause reactions like dermatitis on sensitive skin. Mineral-based sunscreen tends to be safest — it’s what most dermatologists recommend. “You want to go for a product that has a shorter list of ingredients,” Dr. Mancebo said. “You want to look for something that is dedicated to sensitive skin, then turn that bottle or tube around and make sure it doesn’t have any fragrance and it’s free of dyes.”
Are there any ingredients I should avoid?
Many consumers prefer sunscreen without ingredients like octinoxate and oxybenzone, which have been shown to cause environmental damage. They have been banned in Key West, Fla., and Hawaii because of their toxic effect on marine ecosystems. (Some research has linked them to hormonal disruption, too.)
My foundation includes SPF. Can I skip the sunscreen?
Quite simply, no. “It’s a common misconception that that’s adequate coverage,” Dr. Obioha said. “In order to get truly get the sunscreen’s benefit in foundation, you would need, like, four bottles of foundation.”