Perspectives on Sunscreens: Public vs Experts

Most dermatologists believe that sunscreens are the most effective anti-aging products that are available over the counter. How do you know which sunscreen is the best?

Sunscreens are getting more press lately as the dangers of sun exposure are becoming exposed with the help of public awareness campaigns. So you've decided that sunscreens are important. That's more than half the battle. However, at this stage, a common question comes up--how do you know which one to use? There are several common perspectives on sunscreens:

Price: Do you fuss over which bug repellent to use for camping? Bust out your calculator app and see which product has the best price per ounce and you're done.

We want numbers! Look, there's always marketing mumbo jumbo on any product, especially these skincare products, but the one thing you can trust is the numbers, the SPF ratings. That's the one figure that has objective information.

Brands: Brands are often talked about in a negative context these days, but hipsters notwithstanding, you need to trust the company behind the brand. Go with the brand that you trust to provide a quality product.

Texture: As long as you avoid the super thick white sunscreens that just seem to stay there permanently, it's all good.

Where do you fall into, and what factors should you prioritize?

These perspectives all have merit in its own way. SPF, brand reputation, price/value, and texture of the sunscreens are all important factors that should be considered. All of these perspectives share a few common concerns:

  • Distrust of marketing claims and potentially with the skincare industry as a whole
  • Frustration with lack of objective measurements
  • Lack of available discriminating information about sunscreens

It's a challenge to evaluate the quality of a product from the label alone, and there aren't many resources that help people make the right decision. What do the experts say about sunscreen, and do they differ from that of the general public?

Price

Price is important, clearly. Even from the perspective of promoting sun protection, we want users to feel comfortable applying generous amounts of sunscreen on their skin--most people use far less sunscreen than the recommended amount. Regular use is so important due to the prevalence of UVA rays on the ground-they pass through the ozone layer, clouds, and windows, and account for 95% of the UV rays that we are exposed to at ground level.

Our advice: We want to push the idea of regular sunscreen use. If the price of the sunscreen prevents you from applying it regularly, by all means, choose a less costly product and apply it regularly and generously.

Numbers

SPF ratings are an important measurement, but it can be overemphasized simply because it is the only quantifiable measurement on a label. SPF measures a product's effectiveness against UVB rays specifically-the type that burns the skin. A higher SPF is good, especially if you tend to apply small amounts of sunscreen, but it has quickly diminishing returns after SPF 30.

Our advice: Use a product with SPF 30, but don't sweat the numbers higher than that. The more important takeaway is to use the sunscreen regularly, apply the sunscreen generously, and to ensure that the sunscreen offers broad spectrum protection.

Brands

Brand and manufacturer reputation should certainly play a role in your decision. An established company isn't an absolute guarantee of product quality, but it can be a relevant metric.

Our advice: Brand and company reputation is a relevant indicator. Do your research on the web to find out if the company is known for high quality products, or if they are known simply for good marketing, as there is a difference.

Texture

Texture is similar to price, from the point of view of sun protection. It is definitely an important factor for many people, as most people don't like the sticky consistency of overly thick sunscreens.

Our advice: Many older sunscreen products left a thick white mark on the skin that was hard to get rid of, that many disliked. These products are typically physical filters like zinc oxide and titanium oxide that left these colors. New products are much more lightweight, and typically won't have that problem.

The Takeaway

  1. Regularity of use: Sunscreens should be used everyday regardless of weather. UVA rays account for 95% of the UV light that reaches the ground, and they penetrate clouds
  2. Adequate use: Research consistently shows that people use far less than the quantities used to measure SPF rating. Apply twice as much as you normally do, and then reapply every 2 hours that you are in the sun
  3. Common sense: Brand, texture, price, and SPF all matters but none are standalone factors that should completely influence your decision


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