Sunscreen is one of the key ways that we protect ourselves from the sun. Whether going to the beach or off to the sporting field it has become a pretty regular part of our culture to slap on some sunscreen and a hat before we go outside. However, often we probably don’t stop long enough to think whether the sunscreen that we are buying is the right one for us, and with so many different options out there, there are some important factors that we should be looking for.

Check your sunscreen’s SPF rating

SPF stands for sun protection factor, and it is a measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from UVB radiation if applied properly. UVB radiation affects the outer layer of the skin, and is responsible for the majority of sun burns and skin cancer cases. In order to get the proper protection from UVB radiation it is recommended that the SPF rating is 15 or above, and preferably 30 or higher.

So what does it mean to have an SPF rating of 30 or above? An SPF rating is the relative measure of how long a sunscreen can protect you before your skin starts to suffer damage. So on a hot day by the beach if your skin would take 20 minutes to burn, then if you applied SPF 30 sunscreen it would take 30 times longer to burn, or 600 minutes. If you applied SPF 50 sunscreen it would take 50 times longer to burn.

It should be noted that this is a relative measure, which means that the amount of time it takes to burn will change depending on your location, the UV index at that time of the day and your skin type. So it is still difficult to know exactly how long it takes to burn, except that sunscreen with SPF 30 will protect a person for double the time than a sunscreen with SPF 50.

Check that your sunscreen is broad spectrum

UVB radiation is not the only type of radiation that can damage the skin. UVA radiation is a type of radiation that penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB. It causes premature aging, tanning and is one of the causes of DNA damage and cancer. A sunscreen that has a SPF rating does not mean that it protects against UVA radiation. In order to protect against UVA radiation sunscreen needs to pass a broad-spectrum test. Once it has done that it can use the label Broad Spectrum to show that it offers protection against UVA radiation.
Consider using a zinc based sunscreen

If you know you are going to be spending significant time outside then you might consider a zinc based sunscreen. Recommended for sensitive skin types and generally considered more effective than chemical sunscreens, it is the perfect sunscreen for effective UVA and UVB protection. The only downside is that it gives users a ghostly appearance, which can be off-putting to some, however, its effectiveness at blocking out cancer causing radiation more than makes up for the pale appearance.