How to Know Which Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Is Right for You

Cynthia Bailey, MD|January 26, 2015

broad spectrum sunscreen to look youngerThe single biggest thing you can do to keep your skin looking young is to keep the sun off it 365 days a year.

That means you need to love your sunscreen so you will want to wear it from sun up to sun down. It needs to be state-of-the-art broad spectrum sunscreen protection that you can trust too. Start today! Combine sunscreen with seeking shade, wearing a hat, and covering as much of your skin with clothing as you comfortably can. Do this and I promise that in 10 years, you will thank me for motivating you today. So, how do you pick a broad spectrum sunscreen that's worth your commitment to sun protecting your skin? My bias is that only mineral sunscreen products give entirely trustworthy protection. I always want to see 5% or more zinc oxide listed as an active ingredient in a product. 5% zinc oxide gives you good broad spectrum UVB and UVA protection. Sunscreen technology has become so advanced that zinc products now rub in well and are invisible or nearly invisible on your skin. What I love about how zinc oxide sunscreen works to protect your skin from the sun is:

  • The particles of zinc sit ON the skin and bounce the rays off in a "none-shall-pass" form of protection. Non-mineral sunscreens don't work like this. They absorb into your skin and stop UV rays with a chemical reaction inside your skin that generates heat. This reaction also breaks down the sunscreen. I find that mechanism of action and the breaking down of sunscreen is undesirable.
  • Zinc sunscreens are more stable in the bottle or tube than chemical sunscreens. Chemical products are often very fragile and start to break down the minute they are made. Zinc products last longer. Still, you need to look at the expiration date on your sunscreen and start fresh every season with new sunscreen, just in case.

I'm a zinc oxide sunscreen fan and I want you to be too. I've seen too many patients over the years get sunburned using chemical sunscreens. I don't see them getting burned using zinc products. Your sunscreen needs to serve you well.

 "Zinc oxide sunscreens are the best!" "I just got back from a long vacation and cruise in the sun. I used a zinc oxide SPF 30 sunscreen every day and look how well it worked! Other people were using SPF 50s and burning. Because mine had zinc it worked and my skin didn’t burn like theirs." Brenda W., Sebastopol, CA

How do you pick a really good mineral zinc oxide product? 5% is my minimum level for adequate zinc concentration in a product, but the more the better. I've seen 17% products that are so cleverly made that they clearly rub on skin, but often the higher the concentration leaves a little pale color on the skin from the high amount of zinc oxide. That's why many zinc oxide products also include other UVB absorbing ingredients. The presence of the zinc oxide at 5% gives excellent UVA protection and usually gives about an SPF 15. I like an SPF of between 30 and 40, so adding an additional UVB absorber will achieve the higher SPF and still create a product that is entirely invisible on your skin. You have to love your sunscreen so that you will wear it every day from sun up to sun down and in my experience, people will do that if the product is invisible. Are you curious about the really high number SPF values and whether you need an SPF 50 or infinity and beyond?  Click here to read my article on why SPF values above the mid-30s don't give you all that much more protection. What do you need to know about applying broad spectrum sunscreen so that your skin is protected? broad spectrum Sunscreen cartoonYou need to cover all exposed skin with sunscreen. That includes your face, your ears, your neck, your chest, the back of your hands, your arms, etc. The formula for how much to apply is that the average size adult human wearing the average size bathing suite (I love that part) needs to apply 1 oz (a shot glass!) per application applied every 2 hours of uninterrupted sun exposure. Sunscreen tubes are often 4 oz, so this formula requires a tube of product for a full day at the beach. It's a lot of work. You scale that down based on the amount of skin exposed (uncovered).  Also, if you are mostly inside or in/out, wearing a hat, in the shade, etc., you are getting more life out of your sunscreen. It's impossible to know for sure, but your skin will tell you in retrospect if your sunscreen application is generous enough; because if it's not, you will tan. A tan means you need to rethink your strategy. Because it's so much work to rely entirely on sunscreen for sun protecting your skin, I recommend using clothing and hats too. To see the zinc oxide broad spectrum sunscreens I recommend for the face click on the links below: To see the zinc oxide products that are good for your face and body protection, click here. To see what sort of hat you need to effectively protect your face, your neck, your scalp, and your ear, skin click here. To learn more about how bad the sun is for your skin, click here and read the entire post even the bottom part; it's shocking! To see my skin care advice for reversing sun damage in your skin based on ingredients that are scientifically proven to work, click here.

Add Your Comment