If you’ve shopped for sunscreen lately, you’ve seen firsthand the dizzying array of products. There are lotions, gels, sprays, and waxy sticks. In addition, you can find sports formulas, hypoallergenic products, and brands designed specifically for youngsters. The burning question is: Which product is right for you?

INF_SunscreenFacts_oCheck the Numbers

Your first task is checking the sun protection factor (SPF) number prominently displayed on the front label. The American Cancer Society and American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) both recommend using sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. The SPF indicates the product’s ability to protect against sun rays that cause skin to burn—known as ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The higher the SPF, the greater the sunburn protection, when correctly used.

With the SPF accounted for, take a closer look at the label. Always select a sunscreen labeled as having broad-spectrum protection, which means it shields skin from both UVB and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. Both types of UV rays are linked with skin cancer. In addition, UVA rays are implicated in prematurely aging the skin—causing wrinkling, loss of skin elasticity, and freckled age spots. It is wise to choose a product labeled water-resistant, which means it has extra staying power against water and perspiration.

A Formula for Every Skin Type

The best type of sunscreen is the one you will use, so feel free to choose whichever you like best—as long as it meets the SPF minimum and is broad-spectrum. All types of formulas are available to suit consumers’ preferences. Cream formulas work well for individuals with dryer skin and for the face. Hypoallergenic brands may work well for sensitive skin. For covering areas with hair—such as an exposed scalp or a man’s arms or legs—a gel formula may glide on easier. Sunscreen sticks neatly cover ears, noses, and under the eyes.

Some parents favor spray-on sunscreens to quickly cover fidgety children.

Finally, for all ages, be generous when applying sunscreen—and reapply at least every two hours and after swimming or sweating. A palmful of product is recommended to adequately cover exposed skin areas.

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“How Do I Protect Myself from UV Rays?” American Cancer Society.

“Sunscreen FAQs.” American Academy of Dermatology.