May is skin cancer awareness month but it is also the month where many people start spending more time outside and are exposed to UV rays from the sun.  As the weather seems to have finally shifted to sunny and warm in Boston, one thing on the top of my mind is sunscreen.  Although you should be wearing SPF every single day, in the summer time it is even more important to wear it.  Not only do we tend to spend more time outside during the summer months, the UV rays that cause skin cancer and aging are stronger.

Shopping for sunscreen can seem like an impossible task as the options are endless.  It’s important to buy a product that will be well-matched for your skin type.  Read on for my tips on selecting the best type of sunscreen for your skin type.

Normal skin, 30 years old and younger

Your twenties is a great decade to establish healthy skin care habits that will set you up for a lifetime of healthy, youthful skin. When patients ask me what are my top three anti-aging recommendations, I say 1) sunscreen 2) sunscreen 3) sunscreen!! For those under 30, I recommend a daily moisturizer with sunscreen in it. SPF 30 is a good minimum. I recommend a product that has a broad spectrum sunscreen with actives such as homosalate, octinoxate, oxybenozone, and octocrylene which will block both UVA and UVB rays from the sun. It is important that it contain good moisturizers such as ceramides to help maintain a healthy skin barrier.  Moisturizer with sunscreen should be applied to a clean face, before make up is applied. Brands I like include Cerave am lotion (affiliate) and Aveeno Positively Radiant (affiliate).

Normal skin, 30 years old and older

Sunscreen is our most power anti-aging tool. As the skin ages brown spots, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines and wrinkles can appear. In addition, the skin starts to lose the ability to retain moisture. At this time, it is important to have a broad spectrum sunscreen.  If you live in a sunny climate or during the summer months, you want to make sure to have SPF 50 in order to prevent the appearance of brown spots and hyperpigmentation. There are a few potent sunscreens that combine excellent antioxidants and moisturizers and have an SPF 50. However, most moisturizers with sunscreen do not go to above an SPF of 30. The easy fix to this is opt for a hydrating moisturizer, preferably one that containing pigment fighting agents such as vitamin C, kojic acid, green tea and niacinamide and mix this with a SPF 50 sunscreen. For maximum brown spot protection, I prefer physical blockers containing micronized zinc and titanium oxide.  We now know that skin cancer and skin aging is not only caused by UVB and UVA, but also the infrared spectrum, so in order to maximize sun protection and prevent fine lines and wrinkles you may want to opt for a sunscreen that also has infrared protection. Hydropeptide’s non-tinted SPF 50 (affiliate) works great for most skin types. However, if you have darker skin and wish to avoid a chalky residue, my favorite sunscreen is made by the French company Avene (affiliate). It’s silky, lightweight and will not leave any residue. An added benefit is that it doesn’t smell like sunscreen.

Dry Skin

Dry skin is a problem that can affect people as they age, as well as those who have eczema prone/sensitive skin.  Sunscreen is still important for this group. However, sun protection cannot come at the expense of protection of the skin’s barrier function. This is why I like moisturizers that contain sunscreen, which provide the skin with soothing emollients and the sun protection. However, if you find that your moisturizing lotion is not hydrating enough, then a simple trick is to take a bland thick moisturizing cream (like Vanicream (affiliate)) and mix it with a sunscreen and apply to the face/ skin.

Oily / Acne prone Skin

One huge mistake that acne suffers make is avoiding moisturizers and sunscreens because they think that these products will make them break out. On the contrary, if a person is prone to acne then overly dry skin will actually cause their bodies to secrete more sebum (oil) and result in more breakouts. I recommend that these individuals again opt for a light moisturizer with sunscreen and make sure that whatever product these choose says non-comedogenic, which means that it will not cause acne. Again, I love Cerave am lotion (affiliate) for my acne prone patients. Neutrogena (affiliate) also makes a sunscreen for acne prone skin.

Sensitive Skin (including rosacea-prone)

For individuals with sensitive skin, choosing a sunscreen can be difficult. Some individuals complain that sunscreen causes a burning sensation to their skin or eyes. Others even break out in a rash after applying sunscreen. Sunscreen allergies are not unheard over. For example, oxybenzone is a common sunscreen allergen. If you suspect a true allergy to sunscreen, this should be evaluated by a dermatologist. In general, patients with sensitive skin may tolerate physical blocker sunscreens containing zinc and titanium more than those containing chemical sunscreens such as homosalate, octinoxate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. Whenever possible, those with sensitive skin should avoid sunscreens containing preservatives such as parabens and phthalates. For rosacea suffers, it can be tough to find the right sunscreen. I recommend opting for sunscreens that have antioxidants that help with rosacea.  Some antioxidants that have been shown to help with rosacea include:

  • Green Tea

  • Grape Seed Extract

  • Niacin/niacinamide

  • Caffeine

  • Coffee Arabica and Coffeeberry Extract

  • Resveratrol

  • Lycopene

Brands that win out for rosacea prone skin include La Roche Posay (affiliate) and Hydropeptide (affiliate).

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