More Help in Choosing
If you do opt for a chemical sunscreen, look for the UVA blocker avobenzone (which also goes by the name Parsol 1789) on the ingredient list. Ironically, it’s highly unstable when exposed to sunlight—it degrades in about a half hour—so look for it paired with the additive helioplex for staying power. Many Neutrogena sunscreens have this.
If you’re prone to stinging eyes, the likely culprit is avobenzone. It’s a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, but even some “natural” brands such as Kiss My Face contain it. One good alternative: Mission SPF 30+ No Sting Sunscreen Facestick ($7.99, missionathletecare.com). The company’s scientists have teamed with athletes such as Serena Williams and Mia Hamm to find a non-sticky formula that goes on clear, doubles as a lip protector, and manages not to taste like sunblock. (The company is also the “on-field supplier of Major League Baseball.”)
The Best Sunscreens? You Can’t Buy Them Here
Some of the best sunscreens are offered over the counter pretty much everywhere in the world except the United States, says Henry Lim, chairman of dermatology at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital and president of the American Board of Dermatology. This is because the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t gotten around to approving them.
“That is one thing the FDA could do better,” says Dr. Lim, “to start aggressively reviewing these new UVA and UVB filters whose applications have been sitting around in their files for years.”
One such ingredient is Tinosorb M, which protects against a broad range of rays and is photostable, meaning it won’t degrade in sunlight. You can buy it in products sold abroad—including in Canada and Mexico—or order from foreign websites such as tubotica.com, an international online pharmacy. Some good bets: Bioderma’s Photoderm Max, the Eau Thermale Avène line (a top seller in European pharmacies), and sunscreens marketed abroad from Mustela, the cult baby-products brand. Is paying international shipping worth it? Only you can decide.
Another option: children’s sunblock. Most of these both are avobenzone-free and absorb quickly, because kids rub their eyes a lot and aren’t renowned for patience with sunscreen application.
Should you choose a sunscreen promising antioxidants or other benefits? No, advises Tanzi: “Keep it simple. All the additives for other reasons are not the main reason you’re using sunscreen.” Her pick is Journée Bio-restorative Day Cream (about $80; visit neocutis.com to find local doctors who carry it).
For men, Gohara recommends CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM SPF 30 ($13.99 at dermstore.com or area drugstores). “You don’t smell like a piña colada,” she says.
Don’t forget your scalp. A recent study in the Archives of Dermatology—analyzing 50,000 cases of melanoma—found that skin cancers on the scalp or neck are nearly twice as likely to kill you as those elsewhere. Scalp cancer is often found later than skin cancer on other areas of the body—it may be hidden by hair—and there’s something inherently virulent about it, the study found. Multiple dermatologists said their top pick—besides a hat—was Shiseido Refreshing Sun Protection Spray SPF 16 ($34.99, amazon.com).
Having dark skin doesn’t mean you don’t need sunscreen. “Many people of color have a false sense of security,” says Gohara, who is of Egyptian descent. “You can still get skin cancer, and it can be more deadly,” she says, because it’s often diagnosed later due to a lack of awareness by both the public and physicians.
Chalky white sunscreens don’t blend easily on people of color, she notes. Her choice: La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid ($32.95, laroche-posay.us).
Reapplying Over Makeup
Once you’ve put on makeup in the morning, how can you follow the “every two hours” advice without wrecking your face—or your clothes?
One easy option for the face: Almost every dermatologist we spoke to recommended Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral Powder Sun Protection SPF 50 ($60, colorescience.com), which comes in a brush and can be dusted on like pressed powder. “They are the best,” says Tanzi, a melanoma survivor. “I don’t live without the stuff—it’s potent and effective.” It’s available in multiple shades. (One common mistake, Tanzi says, is to forget to reapply it to your neck and chest. Men, she notes, can get away with this because of their shirts and ties—for women she suggests the powder.)
For on-the-go body reapplications, try Dr. Dennis Gross Powerful Sun Protection Daily Sunscreen Towelettes SPF 30 ($18 for 20, dermstore.com). They’re individually wrapped so you can stash them in bags, in the glove compartment, or, for a pick-me-up, in the refrigerator. The towelettes also deliver a punch of antioxidants, green tea, and vitamins A, C, and E—all of which fight aging.
For outdoor sports or the beach—basically, when wearing clothing you might not mind getting sunscreen on—dermatologists like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist SPF 45 ($7.99, drugstore.com).
If you’re planning to be outside for hours or are at the beach, keep in mind that regular clothing—unless it’s dark and tightly woven—doesn’t protect against the sun. “People, particularly men, think T-shirts are protective, but they’re not,” says Gohara, noting that “melanoma-on-trunk incidence is high among men.” Ideally you should reapply sunscreen everywhere if you’re in direct sunlight for a long time, but a good start is to apply it everywhere—not just to body parts that will be exposed—before you get dressed.
One final tip: “Sun protection isn’t just about wearing sunscreen,” says Gohara. You may not want to take dermatologists’ advice about staying in the shade, but you can still create a little shade of your own: “Do yourself a favor and wear a hat,” she says.
Babies and Kids
For children older than six months, dermatologists recommend physical sunscreens, and you don’t have to spend a fortune. “Kids don’t care if they’re whitish,” says Tanzi.
Gohara—a mother of two sons, ages three and six—prefers sprays, though she acknowledges that aerosols aren’t good for the environment: “Sprays cut down on application time by half.”
Babies younger than six months shouldn’t wear sunscreen, but Gohara says “it’s a conundrum, because sun protection needs to begin the moment they’re born.”
For this reason and because applying—let alone reapplying—sunscreen to older babies and toddlers can be tough, she and other dermatologists recommend sun-protective clothing. Gohara has a company, K&J Sunprotective Clothing (kjsunprotectiveclothing.com), that features kid-friendly designs approved by her sons, Kiran and Jai.
With clothing, look for a UPF—ultraviolet protection factor, the rating used for fabrics—of 50. That means the garment allows only one-50th of the UV radiation, or just 2 percent, to pass through.
This article appears in the July 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.