Walking down the sunscreen aisle at any drugstore gives you a dizzying choice of sunscreens. Here are three basic things to know to choose the best one for you and your family. Asking your dermatologist is a great way to go for initial information, but here are some basics to get you started.


What is SPF? SPF means ‘sun protection factor’ and this is an indication of how long it will take you to burn as opposed to unprotected. If you usually burn in 20 minutes and use SPF 15, you now have sun protection of 20 X 15 = 300 minutes, provided you don’t go in water, in which case you’ll need to reapply. So be sure to buy a sunscreen with SPF AND UVA protection or you are not fully protected.


Physical or Chemical? The FDA has approved 17 ingredients for sunscreens and two main varieties, chemical and physical. Only two ingredients indicate physical, and those are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, all others are chemical. Chemical sunscreens absorb the rays of the sun, whereas physical sunscreens reflect the suns rays away from you.


Wait before diving in! If you choose chemical sunscreen, you need to wait a few minutes before getting wet so that the chemicals can be absorbed into your skin and can begin to work. Legally sunscreens can only be labeled ‘water resistant’ so don’t depend on it to last a long time, dry off and reapply frequently and wear a sun shirt.

Remember that the best sun screen is staying out of the sun during peak hours of 10 to 4 and wearing a hat and sun protective clothing. And always follow your dermatologist’s recommendations for skin care. Be safe and enjoy the great outdoors!