Enter the sunscreen aisle at any store and prepare to be overwhelmed by options. Faced with a wall of sunscreens that each touts its own special ingredients and abilities, how is a person to choose?

The most important piece of advice? Buy a sunscreen that you like.

The basics

A sun screening agent is needed to prevent skin aging as well as skin cancer. We know that daily use of sunscreen reduces the risk of wrinkling, also called photoaging, by 24 percent and reduces skin cancer and melanoma incidence up to 50 percent. Simply put, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen, so if you’re the grab-and-go type when faced with too many options, don’t fret. Just look for a minimum SPF of 30, and broad spectrum coverage which protects against the sun’s two main types of ultraviolet radiation—UVA and UVB.

“The most effective sunscreen is useless if does not get applied, so choose a sunscreen that you do not mind applying and that you feel comfortable wearing regularly,”

Getting selective

Using the simple approach of selecting a broad spectrum sunscreen with 30 SPF still leaves an abundance of options.

  • Sweat and water-resistant. In 2011, the FDA ruled to more heavily regulate sunscreen labels, requiring makers to define how water resistant their sunscreen is. Sunscreens are labeled non-water-resistant or with a resistance, or sun protection time, of 40 or 80 minutes. Dr. Telang says water-resistant sunscreens are a great option when swimming or sweating but it’s important to reapply after the stated protection time. Also remember that water-proof does not mean “wipe-proof.” Many individuals towel dry their skin after swimming and in the process wipe their sunscreen off.
  • Spray versus lotion sunscreens. Both work equally well if a sufficient amount is applied to provide adequate protection. “Many patients say that spray sunscreen is convenient and easy to apply, making it more likely to be used,” said Dr. Telang. “I do advise being generous when applying spray sunscreen, to make sure you’re getting good coverage and protection.”
  • Chemical versus non-chemical or “organic” sunscreens. Sunscreens work by blocking, scattering, reflecting or absorbing the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV Rays and the non-chemical, or “organic” sunscreens physically block scatter and reflect them. Both work very well and it is a matter of personal preference which one is used. Some sunscreens are labeled “organic” with the understanding that the product contains no inorganic chemicals; however, these also often contain a physical blocker like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the key sun-blocking component. Dr. Telang said, “Although the organic label is popular, the term is not as regulated as some of the other labels on sunscreens.”

For children

Sunscreen is not recommended for babies less than six months old but for older babies and children the recommendations are similar to those given to adults.

“An important thing for parents to keep in mind is the need to reapply sunscreen regularly. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, and more often if the child is swimming or sweating,” said Dr. Telang. She also recommends keeping children in the shade and in protective clothing and hats whenever possible and not allowing long periods of direct sun exposure.

Find a Physician

If you have any specific concerns about using sunscreen, you should speak with your primary care doctor or dermatologist. To find one near you, please visit carenewengland.org/physicians/.