Everything You Need to Know About Sunscreen

You wouldn’t wear the same outfit to work and to the beach—so why would you wear the same sunscreen? We’ll guide you through what sun protection to use when and where and the best application tips.

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When You Are Swimming

sunscreen while swimming

Photos by Getty Images

Photos by Getty Images

The Golden Rule 
Our experts agree: Regardless of the formula, your sunscreen should always be a minimum of SPF 30 and broad spectrum (UVA and UVB).

Water reflects the sun’s rays, which increases your UV exposure, says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine and Dove dermatologist. But thanks to modern technology, there are now sunscreens created specifically for when you’re in the water. While there’s no such thing as waterproof—the FDA banned use of this word—look for “water resistant for 80 minutes” on the bottle. 

Learn the lingo:

  • SPF Sun Protection Factor
  • UVA Ultraviolet rays that penetrate deep into the skin and more frequently are the cause of premature aging and wrinkles.
  • UVB Ultraviolet rays that burn the top layer of skin and can contribute to skin cancer. 
  • An easy way to remember: Think A = Aging, B = Burning. You want to avoid both.
  • Broad Spectrum Protects from both UVA and UVB rays.  
  • Non-Comedogenic The formula won’t clog pores or cause breakouts.

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Products for Swimming

sunscreen products while swimming

Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion WetForce SPF 50+, shiseido.com, $40.

Coppertone Sport Wet Protect SPF 30, drugstores, $10. 

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When You Are Running Outside

sunscreen while running outside

Photo by @tinanders

Photo by @tinanders

The last thing you want when exercising is sunscreen stinging your eyes, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Sunscreen sticks are a great option. They’re easy to apply, no-drip and you can toss one in your pocket or running belt for touch-ups. Don’t forget ears, eyelids, lips and hairline—these areas are prone to burning. A sport or sweat-proof formula is ideal for everywhere else.

Learn the lingo:

  • Physical blockers Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are naturally occurring minerals that act like shields sitting on top of skin—rays of light hit and bounce off them.
  • Chemical blockers Think of avobenzone and octinoxate as being like a catcher’s mitt: They capture energy from the sun, convert it to heat, then release it into the atmosphere.
  • 'Reef Safe' When we swim in the ocean or a lake or river, sunscreen washes off our bodies and enters the water. Unfortunately, certain ingredients in our sun protection, including oxybenzone, can damage coral reefs and the fish and marine life surrounding them, says Ellen Marmur, MD, dermatologist and founder of Marmur Medical in New York City. Products labeled “reef safe” are free of these harmful ingredients. All Good and Ocean Potion have reef-friendly products.

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Products for Running Outside

sunscreen products while running outside

Alba Botanica Fast Fix Sun Stick SPF 30, albabotanica.com, $9.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Sport Activewear Lotion Sunscreen, laroche-posay.com, $30. 

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When You Are Running Errands

sunscreen while running errands

Photo by PhotoAlto/Gallery Stock

Photo by PhotoAlto/Gallery Stock

Multitasking products are perfect for the incidental sun exposure you can get when taking care of errands or grabbing lunch. Gohara recommends a facial moisturizer with SPF 30, either clear or tinted. For extra protection against free radicals from pollution and the sun—which can damage skin—add an antioxidant serum to your routine before applying sunscreen.

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Products for Running Errands

sunscreen products while running errands

It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream with SPF 50+, itcosmetics.com, $38.

Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum, vichyusa.com, $28.50.

Olay Complete All-Day Moisturizer SPF 30, drugstores, $14.

Revision Multi-Protection Broad-Spectrum SPF 50, revisionskincare.com, $65.

Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF 30, sephora.com, $36. 

CC creams and foundations with SPF (minimum 30) are another option, but make sure you’re applying as liberally as you would a facial sunscreen, says Gohara. People tend to use much less makeup than moisturizer, which isn’t always sufficient. And remember sunscreen isn’t “additive”—a moisturizer with SPF 15 plus a foundation with SPF 15 doesn’t equal SPF 30. Sun protection is only as high as the highest-numbered product.

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When You Are Beach Bound

sunscreen while beach bound

Photos by @tinanders

Photos by @tinanders

Avoid sticky, sandy skin by choosing a quick-drying spray that goes on clear, not creamy, says Marmur. The words “clear” or “sheer” should be on the label. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before heading outside, says Gohara. This is especially key when using chemical blockers (explained on page 32), since they take time to activate.

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Products for the Beach

sunscreen products while beach bound

Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen SPF 50 Natural Spray, ulta.com, $15.

Hampton Sun Age-Defying SPF 50 Mineral Crème Sunscreen, hamptonsuncare.com, $52.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen SPF 45, drugstores, $12.

ISDIN Actinic Care Eryfotona Actinica Ultralight Emulsion SPF 50+, isdin.com/us, $50. 

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When You Are at the Office

sunscreen while at the office

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

A little-known fact: Light from lightbulbs can actually damage skin, says Zeichner. If you’re prone to melasma—patchy brown skin discoloration—you may be especially vulnerable. Visible light is known to exacerbate this pigmentation, says Gohara. While traditional blockers aren’t effective, a tinted mineral powder with iron oxide will deflect indoor light.

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Products for the Office

sunscreen products while at the office

Eau Thermale Avène High Protection Tinted Compact SPF 50, aveneusa.com, $36.

Supergoop! Invincible Setting Powder SPF 45, supergoop.com, $30.

Derma E Sun Protection Mineral Powder SPF 30, dermae.com, $22. 

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Sheer Sunscreens

sunscreen products clear

Forget the days of chalky white cheeks. These new sunscreens are lightweight and super sheer—the smooth gels basically disappear into skin. Bonus: They can do double duty as a primer when worn under makeup. 

Glossier Invisible Shield Daily Sunscreen + Broad Spectrum SPF 35, glossier.com, $25.

Skinnies Sungel SPF 30, gotskinnies.com, $33.

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, supergoop.com, $32. 

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Remember the Under-Eye Area!

color science

An eye cream or concealer with sunscreen, like Colorscience Total Eye 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy SPF 35 (colorscience.com, $69),
is best for this super-delicate skin.