Selecting a sunscreen

Choosing a sunscreen is not an easy task! I vividly remember being on a beach vacation and going to the local Wal-Mart because we forgot sunscreen and there was a MASSIVE WALL of sunscreens. Ummm, how does one possibly sort through all of these?


Ideally, a sunscreen should provide broad spectrum protection from UVA/UVB rays and should have at least an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunscreens either have mineral or chemical active ingredients. You are looking for mineral based sunscreens.

Zinc oxide and Titanium Dioxide are mineral compounds that are more photostable than chemical ingredients, which may degrade. Mineral compounds maintain their protective ability in the sun and block the widest spectrum of UVA/UVB rays. They actually cause the rays to reflect off of your skin and scatter.

Many sunscreens have chemical active ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone. These chemicals are absorbed into our skin and then work by absorbing the UV rays and dissipating them through a chemical reaction. These ingredients are very common allergens and can cause irritation for those with sensitive skin. There is also some limited data that when they penetrate the skin they can cause some hormone disruption (and these chemicals can be detected in mother’s breast milk!).  

I recommend avoiding chemical sunscreens, especially for children, pregnant and nursing women. Many people select chemical sunscreens over physical sunscreens because the chemicals absorb into our skin easier, thus rubbing in better than mineral based sunscreens.  Luckily for us, it is 2019 and we have TONS of great mineral based sunscreens that rub in well.


We always want to avoid parabens if possible, as they are possibly linked to cancer. Examples of parabens include butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben. And for sunscreens, you want to avoid methylisothiazolinone, a preservative that is a very common allergen.


A lotion or cream sunscreen is much preferred to an aerosol spray. Spray sunscreens do not offer as much protection, and we are inhaling fumes from these sprays.

Now, the best sunscreen is the one that you are going to USE. So, if you have tried all of my preferred sunscreens and just can’t deal without a spray, then by all means, just make sure you are using sunscreen. EltaMD sells a spray sunscreen that is not aerosol (and is mineral-based!).

If you have acne-prone skin you want to ensure you select an oil-free or non-comedogenic sunscreen for your face. Oil-based products can clog your pores and worsen your acne.  If you are using any acne prescription medications, you may want to skip your any retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, glycolic or salicylic acid products as they make you more sun sensitive.


  • Check the active and inactive ingredients.
  • LOOK for Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide.
  • AVOID avobenzone and oxybenzone. Especially on your babies!!!
  • READ key marketing words for mineral-based sunscreens: PURE, PHYSICAL, MINERAL, ELEMENTS. But check the active ingredients!!!
  • SKIP aerosol sprays. Yes, really.
  • Acne-prone? Look for “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic” for your face
  • AVOID the inactive ingredients methylisothiazolinone and anything with -paraben in it
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