Summer is here, and it’s time to head outside. We know that sunscreen is essential and that the threat of sun damage to our skin is real. But choosing the best sunscreen for our families is a challenge! 

How can you know which sunscreen provides the best protection? What should you look for when selecting a sunscreen? Does the SPF level matter?

These are all great questions! And with all the sunscreens available, choosing the right one for your family can be tricky. Let’s break down how sun exposure affects our skin and how to choose the right sunscreen for you so that you can enjoy your time in the sun.


Effects of the Suns’ Exposure on Your Skin

Spending time in the sun can feel wonderful, helping to boost your mood and clear your mind. Yet, the UV radiation from sunlight can have long-lasting damaging effects on your skin. Exposure to UV rays can cause premature aging of the skin and signs of sun damage such as wrinkles, pigmentation changes, loss of skin tone, and more. 

UV radiation from sunlight (or from artificial sources like tanning beds) impacts the genetic material of the skin’s cells. The body responds to UV radiation by creating free radicals and pyrimidine dimers. The free radicals and dimers can damage cells and lead to mutation and cancer. When the UV radiation exceeds the cell’s defense mechanisms, the body sends out an urgent message to melanin-forming cells called melanocytes. 

The melanocytes cause pigment to migrate into the skin cells to help mitigate DNA damage. Commonly referred to as a suntan or a sunburn. While we may like the look of a suntan, a tan is a sign of damaged skin. And a sunburn triggers a cascade of inflammatory responses in the body. By the time we have a tan or sunburn, the genetic damage to our skin cells has already occurred. 

In some instances, the DNA of our skin cells can repair itself after UV radiation exposure. But, skin cells can die or mutate, leading to skin cancer or melanoma.


Decoding Sunscreen Terms

best sunscreen

Sunscreen labels can often be misleading. Making it challenging to choose the right sunscreen for your family. Let’s decode a few of the most common terms on a sunscreen label. 

UVB rays are the leading cause of sunburns and skin damage related to cancer. Most sunscreens primarily protect against UVB radiation.

UVA rays penetrate the deepest into the skin and are the leading cause of tanning and long-term skin damage. 

SPF, or sun protection factor, measures how well sunblock protects against UVB radiation only.  

Broad Spectrum is a claim supported by the Food and Drug Administration for products designed to provide UVB and UVA ray coverage. Yet, products labeled as broad spectrum may not protect against UVA rays. 

Water Resistant identifies sunscreen tested after a user has spent 40 or 80 minutes in water. It’s worth noting that no sunscreen is waterproof.


Choosing the Best Sunscreen for Your Family

Sunscreens come in creams, lotions, sticks, and sprays. They come in every price range and from dozens of brands. To help you choose the best sunscreen for your family, keep these pointers in mind the next time you shop.

  1. Choose zinc oxide-based or “mineral-based” sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide are not absorbed into the skin and do not damage living tissues. Additionally, mineral sunscreens are safe and effective for short- and long-term use.
  2. Look for an SPF between 30 and 50. The evidence is unclear if SPF 50+ provides better coverage from UVB exposure. The FDA has also noted that sunscreens with an SPF of 50+ may also overexpose people to UVA rays.
  3. Try a lotion or a stick. Skip the sprays! Lotion and stick sunscreens limit concerns of proper application, ingredient toxicity, and inhalation concerns common with spray sunscreens.
  4. Ensure there are no extra chemicals included. Several studies have raised concerns that the sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and avobenzone have endocrine-disrupting effects. These ingredients are absorbed into the body and can be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after use.

I recommend using the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Sunscreen Guide for evaluating sunscreens.


Tips for Protecting Your Skin From Sun Damage

best sunscreen

There is so much more than applying sunscreen that you can do to safeguard your skin from sun damage. Consider these extra tips for protecting your skin from sun damage.

  • Apply enough sunscreen and reapply often. I recommend applying sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Then, reapply every two hours. And remember to use sunscreen every day. You can still get a burn on a cloudy day.
  • Wear protective clothing. Hats, long-sleeve shirts, and long pants can shield your skin from UV rays and reduce your risk of burn. Try sizing up so the material breathes more, or look for UPF clothing. 
  • Practice limited, mindful sun exposure. There is no need to stay inside all day. But, be thoughtful about your sun exposure.
  • Sunglasses are a must. They aren’t just a fashion accessory. Sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection helps to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.
  • Be mindful of your sun exposure while driving. One of the times we get the most sun damage is when driving. Even with a dark tint, windshields and side windows do not protect you from UVA rays.


Skin Exposure and Your Skin Type

Sun exposure does not come without risk. Limited sun exposure poses less risk for those who are optimally healthy and have minimal risk factors for skin cancer. The amount of unprotected sun exposure that’s safe for you depends on your skin type, how your body repairs itself, and where you live. If you already have a high toxic load, inflammation, or a health issue, don’t add to it with sun damage. 

Remember, not all light is damaging. It may surprise you that Dermatologists use various forms of specific wavelengths and timing of light therapy to treat many skin conditions such as sun damage, acne, psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo, alopecia, and more. 

There is no need to act like a vampire and live in the dark or always be covered head to toe. Instead, it’s about living in the light in a personalized way that fits your skin and unique health issues. 

Approach the interaction of your skin and the light around us mindfully, thoughtfully, scientifically, and holistically.



  1. “Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin Aging – PMC – NCBI.” Accessed 18 May. 2022.
  2. “DNA excision repair – PMC – NCBI.” Accessed 18 May. 2022.
  3. “Comparison of dermal absorption of zinc from different sunscreen ….” 15 Mar. 2012, Accessed 18 May. 2022.
  4. “Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration … – PubMed.” 21 Jan. 2020, Accessed 18 May. 2022.