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We're all familiar with the importance of wearing sunscreen in the sun, but what about all of the moments in-between?
While sun protection is a year-round essential, with sunnier days just around the corner, we're thinking about it even more now. We had questions around the proper way to incorporate SPF into your routine, so we tapped a few dermatologists to help break down the what, how and why of wearing sunscreen.
When should I wear sunscreen?
While moderate sun exposure helps your body produce vitamin D — which can also help elevate your mood and support your immune system — sunscreen remains a must, regardless of your daily activities or the UV index, according to dermatologists Shop TODAY spoke with.
While some countries recommend using sunscreen when the UV index is 3 or higher, Sumayah Jamal, MD-PhD, Director, Skin of Color Speciality Clinic at Schweiger Dermatology Group, says it should be applied regardless of the index reading. So, even in the winter, you should wear sunscreen.
"The problem is that if you don't establish some sort of a routine, there's a greater risk of not applying the sunscreen when you actually need it," Jamal said. She generally recommends for her patients to apply a facial sunscreen every day for this reason.
"And I especially recommend now, that that sunscreen contain some sort of protection from blue light; the kind of light that you get from computer screens and phones," she added. "We do not know the long term effects of this exposure with regards to the skin."
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital's department of dermatology, told us he recommends using a quarter-sized dollop of sunscreen for your full face.
When it comes to applying sunscreen to your body, consider the UV index rating (especially if it is 3 or higher) and whether you'll be spending prolonged periods of time under the sun. Both Jamal and Zeichner recommend applying 1 ounce (approximately a shot glass) of sunscreen to your body if in the sun, which Zeichner says is much more than most people typically apply.
"If you’re using sunscreen the right way, you likely will finish the 4 oz. average bottle of sunscreen in one weekend," Zeichner said.
How often should you reapply sunscreen?
The effects of sunscreen only last for about two hours, so regardless of whether you are inside or outside you should still reapply, Zeichner said. The American Academy of Dermatology found that just over 40 percent of Americans tend to only reapply sunscreen when they get wet, if at all.
"Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, or immediately after heavy sweating or swimming," Zeichner said.
"Sunscreen is not impenetrable, so you will still get tan if you are wearing it," Zeichner continued. Sun exposure, in addition to sweating and swimming, will degrade sunscreen molecules, making it less effective. Though you can still get a sun tan while wearing sunscreen, you shouldn't set out to sun bathe.
"Sun-seeking behavior aimed specifically at tanning carries risk for skin cancer and accelerated photo-aging," Jamal told us.
Top-rated and editor-approved sunscreens
Below, we rounded up some of the Shop TODAY team's favorite broad spectrum sunscreens. All are SPF 30 or higher, as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. Our picks range from facial sunscreens to body sunscreens, so you can browse picks for head-to-toe protection.
Social Editor Rebecca Shinners says she looks forward to using this sunscreen — which also protects against blue light — instead of her makeup primer. "It makes me look like I'm wearing highlighter, when I'm not. I've always been sensitive to sticky sunscreens with heavy fragrances (I'm allergic to fragrance) and I don't have that problem with Supergoop!," she said, adding that she uses the Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 PA+++ on her body.
Senior Editor Alexandra Deabler says she likes the "matte feel" of this sunscreen. It is oil-free and leaves a natural finish on the skin, according to the brand. Commerce Associate Karli Tramontano is also a fan and says it doesn't make her face feel oily or greasy. Like the Supergoop option above, it also protects against blue light.
Whole Foods included "translucent non-nano zinc sunscreens" in its beauty trend forecast for 2022, which is how I discovered this SPF from Cocokind. I already use Cocokind's products in my skin care routine, so I was excited to try this — and ended up loving it. It doesn't feel too heavy on my skin and leaves me with a dewy complexion. It's not only a broad spectrum sunscreen, but the brand says it helps protect against blue light and pollution, too.
This sunscreen is a favorite of Junior Commerce Designer Vivian Le, who says it doesn't leave a white cast on darker skin tones. Reviewers say it applies smoothly and doesn't take long to absorb. It has an SPF value of 50 but is also a PA++ which provides UVA protection.
Editorial Assistant Daniella Musacchio loves this affordable pick from Sun Bum that she says smells like summer. "I also have super oily skin but this just absorbs right in," she added. It's also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, according to the brand.
"I stand by Black Girl Sunscreen!! I've been using their classic broad spectrum SPF 30 for almost two years now," Editorial Assistant Kamari Stewart said. "It feels light, hydrating, is super easy to blend into the skin and doesn't leave any white cast behind." Stewart says she also started using the brand's SPF 45 sunscreen gel, which leaves her skin with a matte finish that she can build her makeup on. The sunscreen is also infused with jojoba and avocado oil, which help moisturize the skin.
Shop TODAY Editorial Director Adrianna Brach has been using this sunscreen for over five years and loves its lightweight feel. "It's hydrating and blends in nicely when I wear makeup," she said. "The best part is I don't feel like I'm wearing sunscreen when I use this!"
Does sunscreen have anti-aging benefits?
Sunscreen is also a key player in anti-aging skin care routines, so long as it is a broad spectrum sunscreen with a SPF that is 30 or higher.
"SPF doesn't indicate levels of protection from UVA rays, and UVA rays are the bulk of the rays that we're exposed to and responsible for photo-aging, photo-damage and skin cancer," Jamal told us. "So, what I think is even more important than just looking at the SPF, is making sure that the sunscreen says that it's broad spectrum. That means that it's blocking both UVA and UVB [rays]."
The SPF in sunscreens protect your skin from UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburns you might develop. UVA rays are also responsible for damaging the skin, accelerating aging, blotchiness and wrinkles, among other things, the experts told us.
For more stories like this, check out:
- How to shop for the best sunscreen, according to Consumer Reports
- 11 top-rated sunscreens that won't irritate sensitive skin
- 7 dermatologist-recommended moisturizers with SPF your skin care routine needs