A study published yesterday by Northwestern University has been in the news today. The study, by Shuai Xu and colleagues, was intended to help doctors give patients a recommendation for which sunscreen is the best. They reviewed the 65 sunscreens with the best consumer reviews on Amazon.com for how well they met the American Academy of Dermatology’s minimum sunscreen recommendations. These recommendations include an SPF of at least 30, UVA and UVB coverage and sweat/water resistance. The study claims that 40 percent of the most popular sunscreens are insufficient. I take issue with this conclusion.
Sunscreen is an important part of your daily skin care routine. I would argue that of all the products you use, sunscreen is the most important.
Not only does sunscreen prevent sunburn, but it also helps prevent skin cancer and premature aging. Many people think that sunscreen is something that you put on when you’re going to be outdoors, but they forget that sun comes through the windows of your house, office and car as well. A physical sunscreen should be applied every morning, even if you’re not planning on being outdoors.
I always recommend an SPF of at least 30, but is a higher SPF better?
SPF is a measure of how long you can spend in the sun before getting a sunburn. It compares skin with the sunscreen on to skin without any sunscreen. So if you could normally be in the sun for 15 minutes without getting burned and you apply an SPF of 30 you could spend 450 minutes (seven and a half hours) in the sun before getting a sunburn. If you are outdoors, I always recommend reapplying every few hours and anytime that you get out of the water or have been sweating. Because of the recommendation to reapply, you are usually putting more sunscreen on before your SPF time “is up.” So for most people, higher SPF just means higher cost, not necessarily better protection.
My biggest issue with the study was the requirement for water/sweat resistance. If you are going to be outdoors, you should certainly choose a sunscreen that has water/sweat resistance. If you are just wearing daily sunscreen to prevent skin cancer and early aging, then water/sweat resistance isn’t important. Many of the reviews on Amazon concentrate on smell and feel of the sunscreen. This is what many people care about (more so than water resistance) when choosing their sunscreen for daily wear. Many of the sunscreens with water/sweat resistance have a greasy feel or a distinctive “sunscreen” odor. There is also a desire to combine sunscreen with other products such as moisturizers or make up.
So which sunscreen is the best?
In short, it’s the one you use. The “best” sunscreen depends on what you’re using it for (office day vs pool day) and is a personal decision based on the feel and smell of the product.