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How to choose between types of sunscreen

There are more types of sunscreen available than ever before, and recent research has raised consumer awareness about sunscreen ingredients.

Find out more about the advantages of various sunscreen formulas along with findings from the latest sun protection safety reports and tips to help you better protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) light.

What are the main types of sunscreen?

You can now choose from several different sunscreen formulations. Each type of formula has a distinctive feel during application and unique pros and cons associated with extended wear. Here are the five most popular sunscreen formulations:

  • Cream
  • Gel
  • Powder
  • Spray
  • Stick

The best types of sunscreen dry clear. Newer gel formulations may have even less of a white cast and can be ideal for oily or hairy skin. Well-formulated sunscreens are often made and tested to not clog pores, as compared to those made with comedogenic oils or other ingredients that may block pores.

Powder sunscreens include tinted finishing or setting powders with SPF and non-tinted powder formulas. Other than in cosmetics, powder sunscreens are less popular than competing types of sunscreen.

Spray sunscreens with aerosol or standard pumps often do not dispense enough product to fully protect the skin, even over several pumps.

Stick sunscreens are typically similar to cream formulas but are thicker and come encased in containers that resemble lip balm or deodorant for targeted, on-the-go application.

What makes sunscreen more or less effective?

The sun protection factor of sunscreen products indicates the effectiveness of chemical or mineral formulas that work by absorbing, dispersing, or reflecting UV rays.

The United States Food and Drug Administration recommends wearing types of sunscreen that have a rating of at least SPF 15.This rating indicates that the skin that you treat with sunblock will take about 15 times longer to develop a sunburn than unprotected skin.

Sun protection products with an SPF 15 rating allow 7% of UVB radiation to pass through to the skin, while this percentage drops to 4% with products rated SPF 30 and just 2% with SPF 60 formulas.

The American Dermatology Association goes further than the FDA, recommending types of sunscreen with ratings of at least SPF 30.

At Clair Obscur we prefer to use products with at least SPF 40. It's possible to choose from cream, gel, and other types of formulas that meet or exceed these baselines.

The main factors that impact the efficacy of sunscreen include proper application of a sufficient amount of product and reapplication as instructed, or at least every 80 to 120 minutes.

When you apply sunscreen, you should dispense at least a nickel-sized dollop for your face or one teaspoon for your head, face, and neck. It takes at least one ounce of most types of sunscreen to cover the entirety of exposed skin, including the arms, hands, torso, legs, and feet.

What kind of sunscreen is the most effective?

Most dermatologists agree that the most effective type of sunscreen is a product that you use as directed.

Clair Obsur is setting out to change the cream sunscreen game with a patent-pending, easy-to-use applicator. Simply twist the bottom of the applicator to dispense sunscreen for zero-mess application.

The only other types of sunscreen to offer hands-free application are spray sunscreens, which are less effective for several reasons.

Most people quickly apply spray products and do not use a sufficient amount of product to provide lasting protection. The only way to get the stated level of protection from UV light from any type of sun protection formula is to completely cover every part of exposed skin.

However, some studies have shown that it may take 250 seconds of complete spraying to cover an entire limb, especially in windy conditions. That's a lot of spraying!

While the fast and hands-free application of spray formulas can seem appealing in theory, many doctors and dermatologists do not recommend these products. It is easy to accidentally inhale sunscreen ingredients or propellants when spraying products directly onto the face and body.

Cream sunscreen that comes with a dedicated applicator allows for safer hands-free application.

What are some pros and cons of chemical and mineral sunscreens?

Chemical sunscreens can be just as safe for humans as the leading mineral or physical formulas.

The common sunscreen ingredients avobenzone and oxybenzone are absorbed into the skin and work by absorbing UV rays through a chemical reaction. Many people appreciate that chemical sunscreens feel less greasy than physical sunscreens with comparable SPF ratings.

While chemical sunscreens are generally considered safe for human use, some substances have been shown to pose risks to aquatic environments. Recent research suggests that mushroom coral converts the chemical sunscreen oxybenzone into a light-activated toxin. This is why many chemical alternatives and mineral sunscreens are labeled as being “reef-safe."

That said, sunscreens are not the main contributor to coral reef bleaching ‚ÄĒ climate change is.

What are some recent sunscreen developments?

Some of the most noteworthy developments in the field of sun protection include advances in applicator technology.

Clair Obscur is aiming to change the sun protection market with our patent-pending, hands-free sun protection applicator. Our applicator will make it easier to apply cream sunscreen with minimal mess and maximum coverage.

Other recent sunscreen developments include the increasing availability of safe and effective mineral and chemical formulas.

The increase in public attention to how different types of sunscreen work, along with wider recognition of the potential risks posed by contaminants such as benzene, are likely to lead to safer sun protection. Consumers should pay close attention to how brands formulate sunscreens and the results of ingredient safety testing.

Combining daily sunscreen use with protective accessories and garments is the best way to prevent sunburn and limit the cumulative skin damage that sun exposure can cause over time.

Wearing hats or visors, long clothing, scarves, or even gloves can reduce the percentage of UV radiation that passes through to your skin. Clair Obscur recognizes the efficacy of combined efforts and is preparing to launch a line of holistic sun protection options.

Which type of sunscreen lasts the longest?

In general,¬†all¬†sunscreens ‚ÄĒ cream, gel, stick, spray, and more ‚ÄĒ offer a similar duration of sun protection if applied adequately and correctly. The difference is usually convenience and design¬†for hands-free application¬†and reapplication on the go.

You may need to reapply powder sun protection more frequently, and in larger quantities, than cream- or gel-based formulas, as these are not formulated to rub into the skin to the same degree as a cream sunscreen.

You may experience reduced sun protection if you start off wearing less than the recommended amount of any sunscreen or if the formula wears off prematurely.

All types of sunscreen need to be reapplied on a regular basis, typically every 40 to 80 minutes depending on sweating, water exposure, and other factors. You may be able to choose between sport or water-resistant and standard versions of sunscreens based on your needs. Check application and use instructions for your favorite formula.

If you anticipate being out in the sun for an extended period of time, you should plan ahead to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes prior to the start of exposure and pack your favorite product for reapplication.

What is the safest sunscreen?

Wearing any sunscreen is arguably safer than wearing none at all.

Safe sunscreen can contain mineral or chemical ingredients. It is important to recognize that both types of sunscreen have pros and cons that could make one type preferable to the other based on your skin type and sun protection priorities.

Mineral or physical sunscreens are formulated with inorganic filters such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreen formulas are often recommended as being less likely to exacerbate allergies, intensify inflammatory conditions such as rosacea, or otherwise irritate sensitive skin.

Clinically tested chemical sunscreens are also safe for human use. Make sure that the types of sunscreen you choose contain only ingredients you are comfortable with using.

What are the best sun protection tips?

You can achieve optimal protection when you use most types of sunscreen by following a few simple tips.

Restricting sun exposure, especially during peak daylight hours, goes a long way towards preventing skin damage and reducing your risk of developing the health complications that overexposure to sunlight can cause.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind this summer or whenever you plan to spend a prolonged period of time outside during daylight hours:

  • Limit time spent in direct sunlight
  • Avoid direct sun exposure during peak hours
  • Wear sunscreen every day
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours
  • Wear protective hats and garments

Direct sunlight describes any degree of exposure to the sun when you are not completely shaded.

The American Cancer Society recommends limiting time spent in direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are most intense. You should also be aware that UV light penetrates clouds, so you still need to use sun protection on cloudy days.

It is always necessary to reapply sunscreen every 40 to 120 minutes, depending on your activity level (you can go longer than that if indoors with limited sun exposure). Stay safe by checking the reapplication guidelines for your preferred types of sunscreen.

In addition to wearing your choice of sunscreen formula, you can increase your level of sun protection by putting on protective accessories and clothing.

Not all cover-ups are created equal. The ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF, of clothing indicates how much UVA and UVB radiation reaches the skin through clothes. A plain white tee-shirt only has a UPF of 4-7, and this rating drops to a UPF of 3 when wet.

A sun protective accessory or garment rated UPF 50 blocks 98% of UV rays.

How should you choose between types of sunscreen?

The first choice you should make is whether you want to take a chemical or mineral approach to sun protection.

Chemical sunscreens are more readily absorbed into the skin where these formulas produce chemical reactions that absorb UV radiation. Note that chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate are banned in destinations such as Hawaii, Key West, some parts of Mexico, Aruba, Bonaire, Palau, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Mineral sunscreens can be the best choice for wearers with allergen-prone or sensitive skin, but as these are suspensions of white powder, it may be important to find one that is tinted and works for your skin tone.

Dermatologists generally agree that cream and gel sunscreen formulations are preferable to spray sunscreens in terms of consistent coverage.

Mineral powders that provide sun protection can be useful for setting makeup, but a base layer of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is also recommended for daily wear during daylight hours.

Clair Obscur plans to offer a full range of sunscreen options. Sign up for our newsletter to be first to hear about new launches.