How to Choose the Right Sunscreen: Tips and Side Effects



Picture this: a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a beach outing or a hike. But wait—did you remember your sunscreen? Sunscreen is more than just a summer essential; it’s a year-round necessity that protects your skin from harmful UV rays. This guide will help you navigate the world of sunscreens, covering tips on how to choose the right one and understanding potential side effects. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or just want to protect your skin on your daily commute, this article has got you covered.


Understanding Sunscreen Basics

What is Sunscreen?

Sunscreen, often referred to as sunblock or suntan lotion, is a topical product designed to shield your skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It acts as a protective barrier, either by absorbing or reflecting UV rays, thereby preventing them from penetrating the skin.

How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreens contain active ingredients that either absorb UV radiation or scatter it away from your skin. They come in various forms such as lotions, sprays, gels, and sticks. The goal is to reduce the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.

Types of Sunscreen


There are two primary types of sunscreen:

  1. Physical (Mineral) Sunscreen: Uses minerals like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect UV rays away from the skin.
  2. Chemical Sunscreen: Contains organic compounds like oxybenzone or avobenzone that absorb UV radiation and convert it into heat, which is then released from the skin.

Key Factors in Choosing Sunscreen

Skin Type Considerations

Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, opt for a sunscreen labeled as non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog your pores. Gel-based sunscreens are also a good choice as they are lightweight and less likely to cause breakouts.

Dry Skin

For dry skin, look for sunscreens that contain moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin. Cream-based sunscreens can provide the added hydration your skin needs.

Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin types should avoid sunscreens with fragrances or harsh chemicals. Mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are typically gentler and less likely to cause irritation.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor)

What is SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it measures how well the sunscreen protects against UVB rays, which are the primary cause of sunburn. An SPF of 30, for example, means you can be in the sun 30 times longer without burning than you could without sunscreen.

Choosing the Right SPF

For everyday use, an SPF of 30 is usually sufficient. If you’re going to be spending extended periods outdoors, consider a higher SPF like 50 or above for added protection.

Broad-Spectrum Protection

UVA and UVB Rays

It’s crucial to choose a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, which means it guards against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkles and age spots, while UVB rays are responsible for sunburn.

Importance of Broad-Spectrum

Broad-spectrum sunscreens help protect against skin cancer by shielding you from both types of harmful rays, making it a comprehensive choice for skin protection.

Ingredients to Look For

Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreens

Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide

These are the primary ingredients in mineral sunscreens. They sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays, making them ideal for sensitive skin as they are less likely to cause irritation.

Oxybenzone and Avobenzone

These are common ingredients in chemical sunscreens. They absorb UV radiation and dissipate it as heat. However, some people may experience skin reactions to these chemicals.

Additional Beneficial Ingredients


Antioxidants like vitamin C and E can help protect your skin from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules generated by UV exposure.


Look for sunscreens that contain moisturizing agents such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or aloe vera. These help keep your skin hydrated and can prevent dryness caused by sun exposure.

Ingredients to Avoid

Harmful Chemicals


Parabens are used as preservatives in many personal care products, but they can disrupt hormone function and have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers.


Added fragrances can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, particularly for those with sensitive skin. Opt for fragrance-free options whenever possible.

Environmental Concerns

Coral Reef Safety

Some chemical sunscreens contain ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been found to harm coral reefs. If you’re planning a tropical vacation, consider using reef-safe sunscreens to minimize your environmental impact.

Eco-Friendly Options

Many brands now offer sunscreens in eco-friendly packaging or with biodegradable ingredients. These are great choices for those looking to reduce their environmental footprint.

Special Considerations

Water-Resistant Sunscreen

If you’re planning to swim or sweat, choose a water-resistant sunscreen. These are designed to stay effective for up to 40 or 80 minutes in water, depending on the label.

Hypoallergenic Sunscreen

For those prone to allergies, hypoallergenic sunscreens are formulated to minimize the risk of allergic reactions. They typically avoid common allergens and irritants.

Sunscreen for Children

Children’s skin is more sensitive to UV damage, so choose a sunscreen specifically formulated for kids. These are usually mineral-based and free of harsh chemicals.

Application Tips

How Much Sunscreen to Use

Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen. Aim to use about one ounce (a shot glass full) to cover your entire body. Don’t forget areas like your ears, back of your neck, and tops of your feet.

When to Apply Sunscreen

Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure to allow it to absorb into the skin. This gives it time to start working effectively.

Reapplication Frequency

Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming, sweating, or towel drying. Consistent reapplication is key to maintaining protection.

Common Side Effects

Skin Irritation

Some people may experience redness, itching, or a rash from certain sunscreen ingredients. This is often due to a reaction to chemical filters or preservatives.

Allergic Reactions

Severe reactions can include hives or swelling, indicating an allergy to one or more components in the sunscreen. It’s essential to discontinue use and consult a healthcare provider if this occurs.

Acne Breakouts

Heavy or greasy sunscreens can clog pores and contribute to acne breakouts, especially in individuals with oily or acne-prone skin.

Managing Side Effects