Are All Sunscreens the Same?

Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013 01:35 PM

By Peter Hibberd, M.D.

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Question: There are so many choices when I go to buy sunscreen. What should I look for? Are there certain ingredients that are best?

Dr. Hibberd’s answer:
 
There are two types of UV light that can harm your skin — UVA and UVB. A broad-spectrum, or full-spectrum, sunscreen is designed to protect you from both. Too much exposure to both UVA and UVB rays raises your risk of skin tumors, including a form of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. The best sunscreen offers protection from all UV light. 
 
Theoretically, the best sunscreen has the highest SPF number. Many dermatologists recommend using a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more. However, no one really agrees on a "good" SPF number. A sunscreen with an SPF of 60 might be better than one with an SPF 30, the SPF 60 product isn't likely to be twice as effective as the SPF 30 product.
 
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreens with any of the following ingredients: avobenzone, cinoxate, ecamsule, menthyl anthranilate, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, oxybenzone, and sulisobenzone. Now a number of mineral-based “inorganic” sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are available. None of these seems to penetrate the skin, and sunscreens based on these ingredients appear to be safe as well as effective.

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