Sunscreens & Sunblocks

It’s true: Sunscreen is the most important skin care product you can use on your skin every day.

The more damage you can prevent from sunlight, the better your skin will be for years to come. If you have pre-teen or teenage children, particularly if you live in a sunny climate, encourage them to start using sunscreens on a daily basis on their faces.

Sunscreens and sun protection are the single best way to prevent prematurely aged skin, sunburns, leathery-looking skin, age spots, skin cancers, and the deadly skin cancer, melanoma (in fact, melanoma is the biggest cause of cancer deaths among kids in their twenties).

There are many types of skin, with different colors, textures, levels of oiliness or dryness, and pore size. Here I’ll focus only on the three main skin types: oily, dry, and normal.


How to choose the best sunscreen for you.

Choose a sunscreen based on your skin type, your climate, and the intensity of your sun exposure.

See my Sunscreen Recommendations for more information.

  • For oily skin, choose a gel, powder, or very light lotion for your sunscreen.
  • For normal skin, chose a lotion or a light cream, and for dry skin, a rich cream.

All sunscreens that are creams and lotions have a moisturizing base. Many people don’t need an extra moisturizer in addition to their sunscreen.

For example, during the summer in Seattle, when we have about 30 percent humidity, I don’t use a separate moisturizer with my sunscreen. I have a normal skin type with a slightly oily T zone (forehead, nose, and chin). In the winter, however, when the central heating is on all season, then I use a moisturizer underneath my sunscreen.

Understanding SPFs.

Don’t be fooled. The SPF indicates only UVB protection, not UVA. You might, for instance, be wearing an SPF 60 and, regardless of your skin type, still be at risk for skin cancer, wrinkles, and burns from UVA if the sunscreen doesn’t contain a UVA blocker. Nor does the term “broad spectrum” on the bottle guarantee UVA protection, because even if the product contains only a minuscle amount of UVA blocker, it can still bear the label for “broad spectrum” coverage. Sunscreens that have 5 to 10 percnt zinc or titanium or 3 percent Mexoryl are best.

The SPF tells you only how much longer you can be in the sun without burning (For instance, if you would normally burn in 30 minutes with no sunscreen, then an SPF 30 would allow you to be out 15 hours without burning). How many of us are out for 15 hours? So long as you use an SPF 15, what really matters is the quality of the sunscreen ingredients, not the SPF. The higher SPF sunscreens sometimes have better UVA blockers but not always.

Why You Need to Take Vitamin D

What about Vitamin D and sunscreens?  If we wear sunscreen, don’t we need more Vitamin D?

The answer is Yes.

Our bodies make Vitamin D in our skin in response to sunlight on skin. Vitamin D is critical for bone strength and now, from a recent study, seems to help prevent several different types of cancer.

Many of us in northern climates and those of us who use sunscreen don’t get enough. Find out if you have enough with a simple blood test. Ask your doctor to add a 25-OH vitamin D test at your next appointment. You need between 1,000 and 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), depending on your serum Vitamin D level (laboratory blood test).  Most doctors are recommending that your serum/blood level of Vitamin D3 be between 40 and 50.

If you are deficient, your doctor will prescribe more. Vitamin D3 is also found in milk—four glasses will give you most of what you need if you’re not deficient already.

Sunscreens for sports

Sports often put us outdoors, swimming or boating or sweating form running or cycling.  Here are a couple of great suncreens for sports and outdoor occupations:

Elta MD UV Sport, a broad spectrum SPF 50 that is water resistant for up to 80 minutes (pretty good price, too, at about $22.00);

Colorescience SunForgettable Powder Sunscreen SPF 50, a great invention for outdoors, because it goes on so fast and with no lotion (so golfers and boaters and those who work outdoors won’t lose their grip).

Here are some good sunscreens available at drugstores and department stores:

  • Clinique City Block Sheer Oil-Free Daily Face Protector –SPF 25—normal/oily (available at department stores or online)
  • Lancôme UV Expert 20 with Mexoryl SX—SPF 20 (available at department stores)
  • Neutrogena Healthy Defense SPF 30 Daily Moisturizer (available at drugstores or online)
  • Blue Lizard Face Sunscreen SPF 30 (available at many drugstores or online)
  • Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15 with Parsol 1789 (available at many drugstores)

And most importantly, check out the sunscreens I have personally tried and highly recommend.

Dr. Irwin

See Dr. Irwin’s expert answers to other reader’s questions on sunscreen:
If I mix two sunscreens will it dilute them? What about La Mer?
Does sunscreen need to go on first or does it matter?
What is the best sunscreen to use on kids?
Can you believe that some schools are banning sunscreens?
How much sunscreen for the face is enough?
See all of Dr. Irwin’s expert answers to Sunscreen.