Your A-to-Z Guide to Sun Protection

Your A-to-Z Guide to Sun Protection
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Photo: ImaxTree. Design: Allison Kahler/STYLECASTER

We’ll say it until we’re blue in the face: Sun protection is a must for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing SPF-infused makeup or even sitting inside, just inches away from a computer screen all day. UV rays are pretty much everywhere and with other factors such as global warming and skin diseases thrown into the mix, we have to be on guard at all times.

MORE: 20 Under-$20 Sunscreens with Safety Approval From the Environmental Working Group

And health-specific consequences aside, skin that’s been overexposed to the sun doesn’t feel or look too good, either. We understand how daunting choosing one sun-protective formula can be. Some look too chalky. Others refuse to stay put. And that all-too-common sunscreen smell isn’t the most pleasant side effect, either.

MORE: 5 Black-Beauty-Editor-Approved Sunscreens That Won’t Make Your Skin Look Ashy

So with another summer season officially here, we’re digging into 26 must-know facts about sun protection with the help of licensed dermatologist and director of the Virginia-based Laser and Cosmetic Center, David McDaniel, M.D., FAAD.

0 Thoughts?
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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients
A: Aloe Vera

Aloe vera—whether it's straight from the plant or in gel form—is often touted as the best option for soothing skin after sun exposure. It also wards off bacteria from the elements.

"Antimicrobial agents kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. Aloe vera is derived from a plant that has anti-inflammatory and other skin soothing benefits," says Dr. McDaniel.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Broad-Spectrum
B: Broad-Spectrum

Broad-spectrum refers to a sunscreen's ability to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. According to PCA Skin, most people don't know that the FDA's SPF numbering system only accounts for UVB protection, so that broad spectrum label is really important.

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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Chemical vs. Physical
C: Chemical vs. Physical

Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients (like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) that sit on top of the skin and deflect UV rays. On the other hand, chemical sunscreens contain compounds such as oxybenzone that change UV rays into heat and release that heat from the skin.

The main difference between physical and chemical lies in the waiting time. Physical sunscreens start working as soon as they're applied, while the chemical ones need about 20 minutes to absorb before you step into the sun.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Dark Spots
D: Dark Spots

According to Dr. McDaniel, "Discolored skin areas, which are usually brown, may be from sun damage, aging, or inherited (some dark spots can be a warning sign for malignant melanoma)." This is why wearing sunscreen is a year-round must, even when you're not spending hours under the hot sun.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Ecamsule
E: Ecamsule

Ecamsule is an organic compound often added to sunscreens to better filter out UVA rays and create a better feel on the skin.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | FDA Standards
F: FDA Standards

Dr. McDaniel says these are "federal guidelines that help standardize the SPF number and claims for broad spectrum and water resistance for sunscreens, which are regulated as OTC drugs."

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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Gels
G: Gels

According to Dr. McDaniel, "some sunscreens may be in the form of a water-based hydrogel, created with water and chemicals that help it flow, plus whatever active ingredients are added." These are an especially great choice for anyone with oily skin.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Hats
H: Hats

In addition to sunscreen, hats are a quick and easy way to provide another layer of protection for the skin. And with an innumerable amount of options out there, you'll never get bored. Here are some pro tips for pairing your head gear with a hairstyle that will actually stay in place.

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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Irritation
I: Irritation

Unless you regularly visit a dermatologist or aesthetician, there's no telling how your skin will react with a product. For this reason, "testing a new SPF for a day or overnight on the inner forearm can be done to test for skin irritation before using on face and body," says Dr. McDaniel.

 

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Just Say No...
J: Just Say No...

...to tanning beds! According to SkinCancer.Org, one of the scariest statistics regarding their side effects is that "individuals who have used tanning beds 10 or more times in their lives have a 34 percent increased risk of developing melanoma."

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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Kids
K: Kids

It's never too early to protect your children and teach them sun-smart habits. Each year, the Environmental Working Group provides a comprehensive list of kid-friendly SPFs that have been tested by experts. Get familiar with them, stat.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Lips
L: Lips

You may be slathering on the SPF from head to toe, but don't forget about your kissers, too! "Lips need sun protection to avoid burning and premature aging (bleaching of pink color) and for skin cancer prevention," says Dr. McDaniel. Here's a shopping guide to get you started.

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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Mineral Sunscreens
M: Mineral Sunscreens

These sunscreens are made with, you guessed it—mineral ingredients (like zinc oxide and titanium oxide)—to reflect the sun's rays like a mirror and protect the skin.

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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Natural Sunscreens
N: Natural Sunscreens

This typically refers to mineral-based sunscreens, too, as minerals (like the ones mentioned before) are typically mined from the earth. The only downside is that this type of SPF can often look chalky on the skin because the ingredients themselves are white or grey in color.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Oxybenzone
O: Oxybenzone

This is one of the most common chemical filters used in sunscreen because it's easily soluble, provides UV protection and absorbs deeply into the skin. It's also used as a stabilizer in other beauty products, such as nail polish and hairspray.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Powders
P: Powders

In addition to sunscreen, SPF-infused makeup is another way to up the ante with sun protection. The most common type would be SPF setting powders, such as Supergoop!'s Invincible Setting Powder and bareMinerals' Mineral Veil Translucent Powder.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Quotables
Q: Quotables

If we can't convince you to slather on the sunscreen, perhaps an A-list crop of celebrities will. We're constantly adding celebrity-approved products to our shopping list, but plenty have waxed poetic about how sunscreen is the key to maintaining their red carpet-ready glow. See what a slew of them had to say over at the Skin Cancer Foundation's handy website.

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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Reapplication
R: Reapplication

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours when outdoors, and/or during strenuous activity.

"Putting the SPF back onto skin after swimming or sweating or simply to help maintain maximal protection for some chemical SPF, which may lose protection as hours pass," says Dr. McDaniel.

He also adds, "Shelf life is the time that an SPF can sit unused and still be maximally effective (at normal room temperatures … in a car or extremes of temperature the shelf life may be shorter than the label)," says Dr. McDaniel. Most sunscreens are designed to remain fresh up to three years.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Sunburn
S: Sunburn

For some, even with an extensive amount of sunscreen, scorched skin is inevitable. When this happens, it's important to treat the infected area right away. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, cool baths, hydrocortisone cream, and aspirin are just a few things that can assist in healing. Skin blisters indicate second-degree burn, which will require a doctor's visit, stat.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Titanium Oxide
T: Titanium Oxide

This is an active mineral element that protects the skin by blocking absorption of the sun's UV light.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | UV Rays
U: UV Rays

Ultraviolet rays can come from sunlight, tanning beds, and even phone/computer screens. UVB rays cause sunburn on top of the skin, while UVA rays—which penetrate more deeply—cause premature skin aging.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Vitamin C & E
V: Vitamins C & E

When used in combination with sunscreen, these nutrients prevent oxidative stress and aging.

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STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Water-Resistant
W: Water-Resistant

These sunscreens retain their listed SPF value after a certain time in water. SPFs sold in the US must undergo extensive testing before they can bear a water-resistant or water-proof label.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Xtra Protection
X: Xtra Protection

According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, using SPF up to 50 or 100 may actually be beneficial for sensitive skin.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Youth Maintenance
Y: Youth Maintenance

Youth maintenance or preservation is one benefit of regular use of SPF. It should be the last step in your morning skin-care routine or mixed in with your moisturizer.

Photo: ImaxTree
STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Zinc Oxide
Z: Zinc Oxide

This is a mineral element commonly used in sunscreens to reflect UV rays.

Photo: ImaxTree

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  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Broad-Spectrum
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Chemical vs. Physical
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Dark Spots
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Ecamsule
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | FDA Standards
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Gels
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Hats
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Irritation
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Just Say No...
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Kids
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Lips
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Mineral Sunscreens
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Natural Sunscreens
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Oxybenzone
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Powders
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Quotables
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Reapplication
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Sunburn
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Titanium Oxide
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | UV Rays
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Vitamin C & E
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Water-Resistant
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Xtra Protection
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Youth Maintenance
  • STYLECASTER | Your A-to-Z SPF Guide | Zinc Oxide
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