All of Your Sunscreen Questions, Answered

Secrets of Sunscreen(Source: Thinkstock; Art by Tanya Leigh Washington)With Labor Day looming around the corner, summer is on its way out. As you start to put your beach bag and swim gear back into storage, you better keep that bottle of sunscreen out. Just because summertime is ending doesn't mean you can forgo using SPF. In fact, SPF is needed year-round for proper sun care. Although this is something we all already know, most of us are guilty of skipping the SPF from time to time. Now there's no excuse. From when to use it to how much is really needed, we talked to three experts to get the real truth about sunscreen.

What's the minimum amount of SPF you should wear every day?
In short, it's best to stick to a minimum of SPF 30, however, keep in mind sometimes numbers aren't everything. "There is very little difference in an SPF 30 or 50 or 100 in the total percentage of ultraviolet light blocked," says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. "However, the key is to use it appropriately with frequent application. It is far better to use an SPF 30 appropriately than an SPF 50 without reapplying."

What's the proper way to apply sunscreen?
Dr. Sanjiv Saini of MD Dermatology suggests being quite generous with sunscreen application on all exposed areas. "Reapply approximately every hour and a half or so as indicated on the label," he says. "Apply 15 to 30 minutes prior to going outside." 

For those who wear makeup and moisturizers, when should sunscreen be applied in the skincare routine?
"Sunscreen is a part of your skincare routine, so it should be the last part of your regimen before applying makeup," says Kat Burki, skincare expert and founder of her eponymous skincare and fragrance collection. "To ensure the sunscreen doesn’t break down with water-based makeup, use a face primer to create a barrier between the two. To touch up throughout the day, there are powder sunscreens that can be applied with a brush and spray sunscreens that won’t ruin your makeup." Dr. Tanzi agrees that powder sunscreens are great and suggests the Colorscience Powder sunscreen ($62). "The powder locks the makeup in place, cuts down on facial oil on a humid day and provides excellent sun protection."

On an everyday basis, where should you apply sunscreen?
Dr. Saini explains sunscreen should be applied anywhere there's skin exposure. "Apply sunscreen anywhere you will have exposed skin 365 days a year," he says. "People with short hair need to remember to apply to their ear and neck." Other areas the pros recommend covering in addition to the face are the feet, hands, ears, neck and chest. "Nothing ages a woman faster than a face that looks great, but a neck and chest that is wrinkly and discolored," adds Dr. Tanzi.

What ingredients should you look for in a sunscreen?
Across the board, all of our experts recommend looking out for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. "They are physical sunscreens that protect your skin from the sun by deflecting or blocking the sun’s rays," explains Dr. Saini. For those looking for SPF in skincare products, Burki recommends hunting for products with raspberry-seed oil, coconut oil, almond oil, beeswax, shea butter and ingredients that are rich in Vitamin E, such as cucumbers, as they allow for natural sun protection while nourishing the skin. 

Is all-natural sunscreen worth the splurge?
"Although I like the physical sunscreen ingredients of zinc and titanium, the term 'natural' is often abused and has no real meaning because it’s a marketing term," explains Dr. Tanzi. "Look for sunscreens with zinc and/or titanium, and those without parabens if [you're] concerned about putting too many questionable 'chemicals' on the skin. That’s the best bet." Finally, Dr. Saini reminds us that just because something is labeled as all-natural doesn't mean it's necessarily better. 

How long can you keep a bottle of sunscreen before replacing it?
First and foremost, read the expiration date. "These are real, and sunscreen will not work once it expires," says Burki. "It will start to break down or change color and/or smell different after the expiration date." Our dermatologists agree. Dr. Tanzi says a good rule of thumb is to discard sunscreen six months after opening it. And as Dr. Saini points out, your bottle should last that long in the first place. "Keep in mind if you are using sunscreen generously and frequently, a bottle shouldn’t last you more than a year anyway," he says.
Senior Associate Beauty Editor at StyleBistro. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @CaitlinSMiller Follow me: Google
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