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Sunscreens for You and Your Family

Buying sunscreen can be confusing; there are many different options and it's hard to know which to choose. You might even want to have some different options for everyday use, lengthy outdoor activities, use on your kids, and so on. Here are some tips to help you decide.

About SPF

SPF, or sun protection factor, is a rating of how well a sun block protects you from ultraviolet radiation. No sunscreen is perfect; SPF tells you how much longer you can stay outside and suffer no sun damage while wearing sun block, as compared to not wearing sun block at all. So, if your sunscreen has SPF 15, that means you can stay outside 15 times longer than you could without sunscreen, provided that the sunscreen stays in place. SPF 15 is enough for casual everyday use; if you are spending an afternoon outdoors, use at least SPF 30. SPF greater than 50 is only a small fraction more efficient than SPF 30; you do not need to spend extra for it.


The sunscreen you choose should protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Most sunscreens offer UVB protection; UVB is what causes sunburn. UVA, by contrast, causes long-term sun damage but not sunburn, so it's not as universal in sunscreen products. But since you're taking the time to put something on your face, you should try to find a sunscreen that blocks UVA as well.

Physical Vs Chemical Sunscreens

Sunscreens using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are called "physical" sunscreens. These sit on the surface of your skin and start working immediately. Since they are not absorbed by the skin, these are a good choice for use on kids or sensitive skin. You don't need to buy specific child sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens take 15 minutes or so to soak into the skin and start to work. They tend to have a lighter texture and don't have the distinctive smell that oxide sunscreens do, but they do take a while to work.


With sunscreen, waterproof doesn't mean that water doesn't affect it at all; it means that it stays effective for longer than non-waterproof sunscreen will. A sunscreen labeled "waterproof" will stay mostly effective for 80 minutes while the wearer is active in or out of water; after that point you need to reapply it. Waterproof sunscreens are good if you're going to be very active; again, for everyday wear, a lighter textured non-waterproof sunscreen will do the job and it'll be more comfortable.

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