Sunscreen 101: How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

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Sunscreen is one of the best ways to prevent melanoma, or skin cancer. If you have shopped for sunscreen recently, you have seen the dizzying array of products. There are lotions, gels, sprays, and waxy sticks. In addition, you can find sports formulas, hypoallergenic products, and brands designed specifically for young children. Which product is right for you?

Check the Numbers

The first thing to do is check the sun protection factor (SPF) number displayed on the label. The American Cancer Society and American Academy of Dermatology both recommend using sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. The SPF indicates the product’s ability to protect against sun rays that cause skin to burn — known as ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The higher the SPF, the greater the sunburn protection, when correctly used.

Always select a sunscreen labeled as offering broad-spectrum protection, which means it shields skin from both UVB and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. Both types of UV rays are linked with skin cancer. It is wise to choose a product labeled water-resistant, which means it has extra staying power against water and perspiration.

A Formula for Every Skin Type

All types of formulas are available. Cream formulas work well for individuals with dryer skin and for use on the face. Hypoallergenic brands may work well for those with sensitive skin. For covering areas with hair — such as an exposed scalp or arms or legs — a gel formula may glide on easier. Sunscreen sticks neatly cover ears, noses, and under the eyes.

Some parents favor spray-on sunscreens to quickly cover fidgety children. For all ages, be generous when applying sunscreen — and reapply at least every two hours and after swimming or sweating. An adult palm-full of sunscreen is recommended to adequately cover exposed skin areas.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend sunscreen for infants under 6 months of age. It is best to keep babies out of the sun completely or shade their stroller with an umbrella. Baby hats, light blankets, and light clothing with long sleeves and pants can also help protect babies when they are in the sun.


Sunscreen is recommended to be used any time the sun is bright, including when you take autumn hikes, enjoy winter outdoor activities, and sit in the spring sunshine!


Look for bright yellow sunscreen dispensers sponsored by Emerson Hospital and IMPACT Melanoma. Learn more at

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