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How To Choose SPF- The Complete Guide By Skin Type

How To Choose SPF- The Complete Guide By Skin Type
woman applying sunscreen

By Kari Emerson, The Important Things

It may not be sun-tanning weather right now, but SPF and sun protection are things that everyone should be aware of year-round. No matter what the weather is like, if the sun is out, our skin is being exposed to its rays. Not only is sunscreen needed to protect from skin damage and disease, but it also helps slow the signs of aging in the skin like wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots etc. This means that SPF is needed all year long! 

There are so many sunscreen brands and products on the market, it can sometimes be an overwhelming product to shop for. So, what is the best SPF to use? Plus, what does the SPF number on that sunscreen bottle even mean? I’m here as a beauty blogger to answer these questions and more and to help you decide what SPF to use, how much, and where and when to use it.  

What Is SPF?

We all know that sunscreen has SPF, but what does SPF mean? SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it is a numeric measure of how well a product protects the skin from UV rays from the sun. Basically, this number is calculated using the amount of time it takes for your skin to begin naturally turning red, and the protection it needs to keep this from happening. 

When Do I Need to Wear SPF?

Always! Dermatologists say that SPF is needed every day, as skin is always being exposed to potentially harmful rays when exposed to the sun. Many cosmetic products (like makeup foundation or moisturizers) have SPF now, which is very helpful in speeding up our morning routine. However, if you are spending the day outside or it’s a particularly sunny day, you’ll want to amp up your protection by applying an additional SPF product or touching up your makeup throughout the day. 

What SPF Should I Use?

Every person’s skin is different, so which SPF to use will vary from person to person. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 30 because this blocks 97 percent or so of the sun’s rays. Unfortunately, there isn’t an SPF out there that will protect your skin from 100% of rays, but generally speaking, the higher the SPF, the more protection it offers.  

How Much SPF Do I Need to Use?

Surprisingly, the amount of sunscreen you’re using is more important than the SPF. Just because a sunscreen has a higher SPF, doesn’t mean it will protect your skin for a longer amount of time than one with a lower SPF. Re-application is absolutely vital, especially if you’re swimming or sweating, or just spending the entire day outside. The AAD’s rule of thumb is to use 1 oz. (one ounce, the amount of a full shot glass) to cover the body from head to toe. You’ll want to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out into the sun (giving the skin time to absorb the product) and then you’ll need to reapply more every two hours or so (more often if you are swimming or sweating). Be sure to read the instructions on the bottle or tube. Products can vary, and it’s always best to follow the guidance on the specific container, because these instructions are carefully monitored for safety by the FDA. 

What Is the Best SPF to Use on Your Face?

Now, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a beauty blogger if I didn’t mention the skincare aspect of SPF. I recommend using a sunscreen and SPF specifically for your face, especially if you have the following skin concerns. Always use an SPF of at least 30 or higher if you can, as the skin on your face can sometimes be more sensitive and vulnerable. The facial skin is also producing more oil and sweat than the rest of the body, so reapplication is extra important. 

  • Acne-Prone Skin: If you have acne-prone skin, you’ll want to stay away from any oil-based products. Look for an SPF that says “oil free” on the bottle. I recommend Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen Lotion (SPF 55) because it is oil-free and specially formulated to not cause breakouts. 
  • Dry Skin: Since the sun can dry out your skin, most sunscreens are generally designed to be fairly moisturizing as well. But, if you have particularly dry skin, look for highly moisturizing or hydrating SPF. I recommend Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion (SPF 50) for a non-greasy, hydrating sunscreen. 
  • Oily Skin: As with acne-prone skin, look for an oil-free SPF to better manage naturally oily skin. Also look for “sheer” or “lightweight” sunscreen, as it is usually formulated to avoid clogging pores or becoming greasy. I recommend Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunscreen (SPF 55). I use this on my oily skin, and it dries to a matte finish without feeling greasy on the face. 
  • Sensitive Skin: If you have sensitive skin, you’ll want to be very careful about selecting your SPF. Look for sunscreens with words like “gentle” or which include natural ingredients such as aloe. Harsh chemicals and ingredients can irritate your sensitive skin. I recommend Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Face Liquid Sunscreen (SPF 50) because it is made of natural, hypoallergenic ingredients, and will protect without irritating or damaging. 
  • Young/Kids’ Skin: The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most sun damage occurs during childhood, so you’ll want to be extra careful when selecting and applying your kids’ SPF. Use at least SPF 30, choose something with natural ingredients that won’t irritate their sensitive skin, and reapply frequently. I recommend Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen (SPF 50) because it is super-gentle on young skin and provides broad protection from rays. Zinc or titanium oxide-based sunscreens are known as physical barrier sunscreens, as they don’t seep into the skin, rather they create a protective layer. 
  • Mature/Aging Skin: Like our kids’ younger skin, mature and aging skin is also very important to take extra special care of when exposed to the sun. Moisture is key for anti-aging skincare, but you’ll also want to choose a sunscreen that is gentle and restoring. I recommend La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer (SPF 30) for a gentle way to restore the skin’s natural protective barrier while simultaneously protecting from further damage. 

It’s important to protect all of your skin at all times, no matter your age or where you happen to be.  

Kari Emerson

Kari Emerson is a NYC-based blogger and model. She is the writer and creator of The Important Things blog, chronicling her experiences navigating life as a 20-something in New York City. Her goal is to help her readers attack “adulting” in a stylish and resourceful way.

About The Author

Casey Christiansen

Casey supports the PR team at Zulily.

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