Secrets to Picking the Right Sunscreen + Recommendations

All tips are from my personal experience working at a Dermatologist office for 5 years. But as always, The Saving Asian always recommends consulting your trusted health-care provider(s)!

With winter finally in the rearview mirror, the sun is calling us to get outside! Longer days, clear skies, and pretty outfits are all what makes summer great. Unfortunately, it also means the potential for sunburns and dangerous UVA/UVB rays shining down on all of that exposed skin. Whether you’re expecting, have little ones or are just conscious of healthy living choices, it’s time to have a look at what’s in your sunscreen and what you should look for when buying a new one.


Most “mainstream” sunscreens use chemicals that block or absorb ultraviolet light to prevent burns. The FDA regulates which ingredients can be marketed for sun protection as well as which kinds of claims they can advertise in terms of SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and water resistance. This may indicate that anything the FDA has approved for use is perfectly safe. Unfortunately, this is not 100% the case regarding sunscreens.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are commonly used for SPF ratings in many different types of products, from sunscreens to cosmetics and daily moisturizers. Although they are very effective in preventing sunburns and cancer causing UVA/UVB rays, there has been controversy surrounding their safety.

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Animal studies have shown that when rats or mice are given oxybenzone via injection or ingestion, they develop health problems over time such as hormone imbalances and liver damage. Octinoxate has also shown changes in estrogen levels in animals, which may sound scary to any pregnant woman, or those trying to conceive. BUT since these products are only used on the skin’s surface, it’s hard to say if this information is useful in determining their safety. How much is absorbed through the skin? Does it get into the bloodstream as much as direct injection? There are still many questions to be answered. Keep an eye out for these ingredients in your foundation, day creams, and lip balms as well.

ALSO, animal studies do not accurately portray how human bodies would respond. The FDA does not think that these tests have shown enough compelling evidence to remove oxybenzone and octinoxate from the market.


Physical sunscreens reflect light away from the skin while chemical sunscreens undergo a chemical reaction or change in structure to absorb the light.
Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation rather than reflecting it away from skin. The light can be used in a chemical reaction, slightly altering the chemical structure of the sunscreen itself, or be released as a different UV wavelength.

Physical sunscreens are associated with less irritation and allergic reactions, but can feel much heavier on your skin and impart a white cast to skin. Chemical sunscreens have been found to absorb into skin, and have been found in urine samples. So, which ingredients are which? Physical sunscreens are Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. Everything else is a chemical sunscreen.
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The sun produces two kinds of rays — UVA and UVB — which cause damage to our skin. Since the sun's rays can cause everything from skin aging to skin cancer, there are many reasons to protect yourself from the sun. Knowing the difference between UVA and UVB rays can help you pick out the best sunscreen for you. In addition, it is important to know just what each ray is responsible for when it comes to damage to our skin.

UVA (Aging)

UVA rays are constantly present, no matter the season or the weather. If you think you can't get sun damage on a cloudy day, tell that to the UVA rays. They are so powerful that they also penetrate clothing and even glass. 

UVA rays used to be considered relatively safe, and that's why tanning beds advertise themselves as a safe way to get a tan. But we now know that using tanning beds before the age of 30 can actually increase your risk of skin cancer by 75 percent! Also UVA rays are responsible for skin aging because they are able to penetrate much deeper into the surface of the skin, damaging the skin cells beneath. While people think their skin looks younger and even healthier when it's tan, the reality is that each tan is creating irreversible skin damage. Many times this skin damage does not show up immediately but rather 10, even 20 years later.

Your skin will have wrinkles, dark spots, and an bumpy texture.

UVB (Burning)

UVB rays are the rays you can blame when you get a sunburn. Unlike UVA rays, these rays aren't always the same strength year round; they are stronger in the summer months. However, UVB rays reflect off of water or snow and cause a sunburn even in the winter, so it's always important to protect yourself year-round with sunscreen.

UVB rays are responsible for causing most skin cancers. While large doses of UVA rays can contribute to cancer, it's the UVB rays that are commonly to blame. They are most prevalent mid day, so if you must be out at that time, protect your skin with clothing, a wide brimmed hat, and of course sunscreen.

When you think of UVB rays, think sunburn and cancer.

The “old school” sunblock ingredients are the ones you should look for when choosing any product with SPF. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have shown to be the safest and most effective sunscreens. Pregnant women and children over six months should use products with these active ingredients.

The image of a lifeguard from the 1950s with bright white sunblock on his nose might come to mind. That was zinc oxide. The original elemental formula was a white paste that acted as a barrier between your skin and the sun. Today, lotions and creams now use either invisible or vanishing zinc that glides on clear.

It’s not just the active ingredients that matter. All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but it wasn't until recent years that sunscreen started including UVA protection. Look for one that specifically says UVA/UVB or "broad spectrum coverage" on the bottle. Do not buy a sunscreen for you or your family that does not provide protection from both types of rays. A few dollars more is a good investment in your (or your baby’s) health to avoid parabens, alcohol, and synthetic chemical fragrances.

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It is recommended that no infant under 6 months be exposed to direct sunlight. This being said, there are no sunscreen options that are appropriate for this age group. When outside, keep your baby in the shade with light cotton clothes, covering her arms and legs. Hydration is especially important — always make sure that he or she has access to formula or breast milk, and avoid being outside from 10am to 2pm when the sun is the strongest.

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Spray sunscreens are wasteful. Not only is this just money in the wind, but it also creates the potential for your sunscreen product to be inhaled. The FDA tests for safety; they are looking at “proper use.” None of these items, zinc included, have been tested for repeated inhalation. That should be a very important consideration in your selection process.

It might seem more convenient to use a spray, but I strongly recommend a traditional lotion or cream sunscreen to prevent breathing in the product. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide win the battle of safety over more common and less expensive sunscreens. 


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PCA (Physician Care Alliance) has been awarded the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation with the Weightless and Active Broad Spectrum sunscreen being their most popular products. This Skin Cancer Foundation recommended formulation provides water-resistant, broad spectrum protection with a light finish.

If you love outdoor activities, the Active Broad Spectrum sunscreen is definitely for you. It provides a board spectrum protection that includes zinc oxide for reliable UV protection. It is free of fragrance and contains antioxidants to boost the skin's environmental defenses and repair damage. All products have a lightweight texture that's suitable for normal, oily and even acne-prone skin.

Price Ranges . $39 - $45

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Protect your skin from irreversible UV damage with IMAGE Prevention + line. These 30 to 50 SPF moisturizers contain natural ingredients that add a barrier between your skin and the sun while simultaneously imparting essentials like vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E to give your skin the nutrients it needs to thrive. IMAGE sun protection offers a variety of oil-free, broad-spectrum UVA/UVB moisturizers to help match your skin type and sun care needs.

If you want the ultimate protection against harmful, aging rays of the sun as well as blockage of environmental factors that lead to premature aging, then Prevention+ Daily Hydrating Moisturizer is perfect.

PREVENTION+ Daily Ultimate Protection SPF 50 . $39.99

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Colorscience cosmetics and skin care products are formulated with a number of different mineral compounds that are dye and fragrance-free. Colorscience products are designed to cover flaws and improve skin tone without irritating existing skin conditions or causing new ones to form.
The Sunforgettable Loose Mineral Sunscreen is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic so it won’t clog your pores and is suitable for most people with sensitive skin. The mineral sunscreen doesn't spill or leak out of the packaging because there is a brush guard to help keep the bristles and product in place until you want to use it. They are also antimicrobial and will keep the actual brush fresh.
It comes in four different shades that suit just about any skin tone.
Though it doesn’t offer good coverage, but I’ve found that it works well as a setting powder. It delivers a natural matte finish when applied and it doesn’t sit in lines or cake up on the skin. 

3-pack Sunforgettable Sunscreen SPF 50 . $120
Sunforgettable Loose Mineral Sunscreen Brush SPF 50 . $60
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You don’t have to be a beauty expert or even be mildly interested in the world of personal care to recognize the brand Neutrogena. This affordable, high quality, skin care brand has been a leader of drugstore beauty for decades. As the #1 dermatologist recommended skincare brand, Neutrogena is committed to providing the market with economical skincare options that perform.

 If you're looking for a more afforable sunscreen option, get the best protection under sun with Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunblock. The cream is infused with Neutrogena’s exclusive Helioplex technology which is perfect for all skin types. The sunblock is white and creamy in texture. When you first swatch it, it might feel too heavy but it absorbs very easily into the skin. The Neutrogena Sunblock gives a matte finish but with a slight shine. 

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen Lotion - SPF 55 - 3oz . $7.99 (Target)


Unfortunately many of us don’t use our sunscreen properly, and we’re actually getting a much lower effective SPF than we think we are. To help combat this you should use the highest SPF you can stand to use, especially for days with a lot of sun exposure. Think of it this way: If you’re misusing SPF 15 you might be lucky to get SPF 8. Misuse a SPF 85 and you are probably up in the SPF 45 range.
While it’s a personal choice, I strongly encourage to use at least SPF 15 everyday. You get a lot of UV exposure every day, even if it’s just driving your car or sitting near a window. If you use SPF 15 you need to make sure you use it properly to get the full protection offered.

The final thing to think about when choosing your overall SPF is your skin tone. If you have a family history of skin cancers, you should especially consider increasing your minimum SPF. It is also vital to get your skin check for your skin cancer every year; for those with a family or personal history of skin cancer, every 6 months is recommended.

Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure! Reapply every 2 hours of sun exposure, after 80 minutes of sweating or swimming, after towel drying, and/or after any activity which might result in product being wiped off of skin. Lastly, don't let the weather decide for you if you are going to apply sunscreen or not. Even if it is a cloudy or rainy day, be sure to protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays. The less you protect your skin, the more prone you are to sunburn, cancer and skin aging.
Don't forget to protect the tops of your ears, neck, chest, hands, and feet.

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Have fun this summer, and know that you made the best choice in sun safety.