How to Choose a Sunscreen

Not all sunscreens are created equal. To get the best protection, follow these guidelines.

You will need

  • SPF 15 or higher
  • A sunscreen with micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide
  • Broad-spectrum protection

Step 1 Know the lingo Know the difference between sunscreen and sunblock: sunscreen absorbs ultraviolet rays; sunblock reflects them. Both protect your skin, but sunscreen takes about 20 minutes to start working.

Step 2 Look at the SPF number Understand the Sun Protection Factor number. SPF 15 means you can stay in the sun 15 times longer than the amount of time your skin could be exposed, unprotected, without burning. The SPF number only refers to UVB rays, but not UVA rays. Both have been linked to skin cancer.

Step 3 Check the ingredients Check the ingredients. Though nothing has been proven definitively, concerns have been raised about the safety of the ingredients PABA and oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, so consider avoiding them in favor of micronized zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide.

Step 4 Get "broad spectrum" Choose a sunscreen that offers “broad spectrum protection” to protect your skin against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for one that contains Mexoryl.

Step 5 Be skeptical Be skeptical of claims like “natural,” “all-day protection” and “blocks all harmful rays.” These boasts are often exaggerations.

Step 6 Check the expiration date Check the expiration date to make sure it’s still potent. Chuck an open bottle of sunscreen if you’ve had it for more than a year.