How to choose the right sunscreen for your lifestyle

By: Katherine Flemming

Author: Canadian Living


How to choose the right sunscreen for your lifestyle

By: Katherine Flemming
The sun worshipper
Your lifestyle: You embrace the heat and spend lots of time outdoors, hitting the beach, playing sports or swimming in the pool with your kids. You're at risk of experiencing significant UV damage, so sun protection is on your mind, but it needs to be accessible, easy to use and effective.

Your sunscreen Rx:
Look for a waterproof, sweatproof formula, because "you won't be as vigilant about reapplying after swimming and towelling off," says Dr. Paul Cohen, a Toronto-based dermatologist. Pick up a sunscreen with an SPF between SPF 50 and 70. "There's a misconception that higher levels won't protect you more than lower SPF levels," says Dr. Cohen. He says an SPF of 30 can shield 93 per cent of UV rays while SPF 60 can block 97 per cent. "Cumulatively, over many years, that's a significant difference," he adds. And while spray-on sunscreens are easy to use, "you need to be careful when applying them. On a windy day, the formula can blow away," says Dr. Cohen, who prefers to use white creams to ensure all areas are covered. If you love sprays, make sure to apply them in wind-blocked or indoor areas.

Tip: "Sunscreen is only part of the picture," says Dr. Cohen. Check out sun shirts – they offer incredible coverage, are easy to wear, and can be worn while swimming and doing other outdoor activities.

The sometimes sunner
Your lifestyle:
You dabble in outdoor activities such as gardening, but don't plan your weekends around maximizing your time under sunny skies. You need a formula that works with your on-the-go lifestyle.

Your sunscreen Rx: Even if you're partially covered up, apply a thick layer of sunscreen to any areas of skin exposed to the sun. Dr. Cohen sees gardeners with severe damage on their arms and scalps, while their hands are relatively spot-free from wearing gloves. Creams are excellent choices because you can see where you have applied them, and those sold in jars are easy to fit in your purse and won't weigh it down. Stick formulas are another easy option for touch-ups. "They're like big, fat lipsticks and are great to cover your nose, ears and lips," says Dr. Cohen. Always wear a wide-brimmed hat to shield your face and scalp.

Tip: Plan your activities around the movement of the sun. "Don't set out to garden at 12:30 p.m., when rays are strongest," says Dr. Cohen. Try to go out later in the afternoon or early in the morning, but still maintain your sunscreen application.

Page 1 of 2 – Are you a sun avoider? Find the perfect sunblock for you, plus, learn suncreen application tips from Dr. Cohen on page 2
The sun avoider
Your lifestyle:
You dash between your arrival points with a spring in your step, spending only brief moments in the sunshine and favouring the cool indoors over long stretches in the sun. You're happy to wear sunscreen, but your main line of defence against the sun is avoiding it whenever possible.

Your sunscreen Rx: "As long as your exposure is limited, a moisturizer with an SPF is OK," says Dr. Cohen. Formulas that blend sunscreen with skin-care ingredients tend to be more cosmetically elegant, he adds. They glide across your skin and can be easily reapplied throughout the day. However, don't rely on them if you sit beside a window at work or drive often, says Dr. Cohen. "UV rays can penetrate glass and moisturizers with SPF don't offer as much coverage as pure sunscreen." Never go lower than SPF 30. "An SPF 15 is a total waste in the summer," says Dr. Cohen. Carry the moisturizer in your for easy touch-ups. "They rub in nicely. It's that type of protection."

Tip: If you avoid the sun because of skin sensitivity, look for a sunscreen with physical blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. "These are great for children or adults with eczema, allergies, rosacea or sensitive skin," says Dr. Cohen. "While they appear chalky white on skin, some formulas are incredibly effective." 

Dr. Cohen's sunblock application tips
• When applying sunscreen to your face, you'll need enough cream to cover "the better part of your ring finger," says Dr. Paul Cohen, a Toronto-based dermatologist. Use enough to fill an entire shot glass when coating your body.

• Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if you are swimming, towelling off or sweating.

• The average sunscreen bottle allows for eight or nine full-body applications. "If you're at the end of the summer and you still have a full bottle of sunscreen, there's a problem," says Dr. Cohen.

• If you're taking a long outdoor stroll during lunch, make an appointment with your sunscreen bottle to reapply before you go, especially if you sit near a window, says Dr. Cohen. By noon, the formula has started to break down and you're no longer protected.

• Be generous with your application. "An SPF 50 won't be a true SPF 50 if you've applied a thin layer and missed several spots," says Dr. Cohen.

• If you use vitamin D intake as an excuse to skip sunscreen, Dr. Cohen likens it to "smoking cigarettes to keep [your] weight down." He says five minutes of exposure to the sun a day on the backs of your hands in the summer is enough to give you sufficient vitamin D.

Editors' note: We apply sunscreen straight out of the shower after our skin has cooled and dried, then let the lotion dry before getting dressed. This gives it time to sink in and guarantees we don't miss any spots.

This story was originally titled "What's Your Sunscreen Style?" in the June 2010 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

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How to choose the right sunscreen for your lifestyle