How to Choose the Right Sunscreen

It’s easy to remember your daily sunscreen application during the long, hot days of summer, but if you think winter is the “safe” season, and you go sunscreenless until the weather changes, you’re putting yourself at high risk for early aging and skin cancer.

That’s because the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays know no season. Cloudy days can’t stop them from beaming down and seeking out your delicate skin. In fact, if you plan on skiing this winter, you may get hit by ultraviolet (UV) rays from two directions: direct sunlight from above and reflected light off the snow. 

Dr. Robert Topham at Holladay Dermatology & Aesthetics recommends daily sunscreen application year-round for all our patients in Holladay, Utah. But not just any sunscreen. If you’ve ever stood staring at a wall full of tubes, bottles, and sprays at your local drugstore trying to decide which one to buy, you know that the choice can be overwhelming.

That’s why Dr. Topham put together these guidelines to help you navigate the world of sunscreens. He knows which ingredients help give you the best protection against damaging UV rays while taking good care of your skin. 

Minimum sunscreen requirements

Marketers and advertisers are great at their jobs. They design attractive packaging and use words proven to translate into sales. But a savvy shopper educated about sun damage and sunscreen products can see through the hype and choose protection based on science. 

Here are three key terms to look for to get you the best basic sunscreen on the shelf:

Broad spectrum

The sun’s ultraviolet rays come in two forms: UVB rays burn your skin, and UVA rays can lead to cancer. If your sunscreen only protects against UVB rays and sunburns, you’re not getting full protection. Look for the words “broad spectrum” to ensure that the product you’re buying has been tested for both.

Sun protection factor (SPF)

The sun protection factor, or SPF, is a familiar term to most people. But there are a couple of things most people don’t know about the number on the label. 

Dr. Topham recommends an SPF of at least 30, but warns that higher than 50 isn’t worth it.

Water resistance

“Waterproof” is one of those clever marketing terms that try to convince you to buy one product over another, but in reality, there is no truly waterproof sunscreen. Water resistance is possible, and these products are manufactured to endure 40-80 minutes of sweating or swimming. Still, Dr. Topham urges you to reapply your sunscreen every two hours for maximum protection.

Beyond the basics

If you’re looking for a sunscreen that gets you beyond the basic necessities, Dr. Topham recommends one specific product over all the others: EltaMD® sunscreen. In addition to meeting the essential criteria for a sunscreen, it also contains critical ingredients Dr. Topham believes are highly effective, nourishing, and safe for your skin.

Transparent zinc oxide

Zinc oxide offers strong sun protection that doesn’t degrade when the sun hits it. Zinc oxide has been popular in sunscreen many years, which is why beach volleyball players wore the characteristic white-paint-like product on their nose in the 1960s and 1970s. But now, it comes in an invisible form, so you get the same protection without the white mess.

Noncomedogenic formula

Anyone with oily or acne-prone skin needs to choose skin care products carefully, and that includes sunscreen. EltaMD is noncomedogenic, which means it won’t clog your pores.

Good for sensitive skin

Sunscreen formulas tend to be full of chemicals, which can be a nightmare if you have sensitive skin. To keep irritants to a minimum, EltaMD is fragrance-free and contains no parabens, preservatives that may disrupt hormones and contribute to cancer.


When the sun’s UV rays penetrate your skin, they trigger the production of free radicals, unstable atoms that may damage your skin cells. Antioxidants add an electron to free radicals and stablize them so they don’t wreak havoc in your skin. 

Learn more about sunscreen and skincare

Sunscreen is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to proper skin care. To find out more about your skin health and which products you should use to keep it in top shape, call our office in Holladay, Utah, at 801-272-4408 to set up a consultation with Dr. Topham today.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Help! I Regret My Tattoo

It seemed like a good idea at time, but now you wish you hadn’t gotten that tattoo. You’re not alone, and you’re not without options. Here’s the fastest, safest way to remove that unwanted ink.

When Should I Worry About a Mole?

Moles can be embarrassing blemishes or signature features, but however you feel about your moles, you should keep an eye on them because they can harbor cancer cells. Here are some telltale signs you should see a specialist about your moles.