As soon as summer starts to heat up, my patients ask the million-dollar question: what kind of sunscreen do I recommend. I’m glad: it’s an important question. And, in the off chance a patient doesn’t ask, I make sure to bring it up in our consultation.

Not only does sunscreen help protect against skin cancer, but sunscreen is your best defense against aging. Sun damage is the number one cause of premature aging in women. Number one. And truth be told, UVA rays (the ones that cause aging and skin cancer) are constant throughout the year. So you should really be wearing sunscreen every day in every season—not just the summertime.

The best sunscreens for the face contain zinc or titanium dioxide which actually reflect the light off the skin and are better against the some UVA aging rays that other chemical sunscreen do not block. I recommend Intellishade, an anti-aging tinted moisturizer with broad-spectrum SPF 45 coverage that also works to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improve the skin’s elasticity. I also recommend Blue Lizard, zinc oxide-based broad-spectrum sunscreens available in a sport formula, sensitive and baby formulas, as well as a sunscreen/daily moisturizer in one. We offer both brands at Refresh Wellness.

But let’s say you’re on vacation this summer and you need some over-the-counter sunscreen. What should you look for? And when should you apply it?

Broad Spectrum
The most important phrase to look for on a sunscreen label is broad spectrum, which means that sunscreen protects against UVA (aging and wrinkle-causing rays) and UVB (the burning rays). UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply while UVB rays damage the skin’s upper surface. Both can cause skin cancer.

SPF 15 or Higher
SPF means “sun protection factor.” Essentially SPF is a rating system that tells you how long you can be “protected” from the sun. For example: If it takes your unprotected skin 20 minutes to start turning red, sunscreen with SPF 15 protects you for five hours—it prevents reddening 15 times longer. Sunscreen with SPF 30 offers 98% protection and anything above that is only 2% better at most. I don’t recommend buying sunscreen with an SPF that’s lower than 15.

Water-Resistant
Have you noticed that sunscreens are no longer “waterproof?” That’s because sunscreen is (and has always been) water resistant at best, and manufacturers must indicate “water resistance” on the label. If you’re swimming, sweating, or playing in water, you have to have sunscreen with water-resistance. And, you have to pay attention to how long the water-resistance lasts. That information changes from brand to brand, so be sure to read the label because reapplication is important.

When to Apply
Sunscreens containing Avobenzone, Oxybenzone (helioplex), and Encamsule (Mexoryl) are more stable during sun exposure and provide greater spectrum coverage. But, they must be applied at least 15 minutes before going into the sun so they can absorb into the skin. Zinc- or titanium oxide-based sunscreens can be applied just before exposure because those chemicals actually reflect the light. You should use 1 ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) with every application. Reapply as indicated on the label (approximately every 2 hours) or immediately after swimming.