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6 Essential Tips for Sunscreen Shopping

Take the guesswork out of shopping for this anti-ager numero uno.

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Gone are the days when we slathered on tanning oil, set up shop on a beach chair, and baked to a crisp in the hot summer sun.

Now we know how important it is to stay protected from the sun’s rays—UV exposure is responsible for up to 90 percent of the visible signs of aging, The Skin Cancer Foundation in NYC reports.

Problem is, it’s not as easy as grabbing a tube of sunscreen from the drugstore shelf and calling it a day. With so many different levels of SPFs and active ingredients, choosing a sunscreen can be confusing as heck. We’re here to take the mystery out of sunscreen, and help you learn which sunscreen will keep you protected and gorgeous.

Fact #1: There are different types of sunscreens—and it might take some experimenting to find the one that’s best for you.
Dermatologists divide sunscreens into two different categories: physical and chemical. “Physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin’s surface and work by deflecting UV rays. Chemical sunscreens sink into skin’s top layer, and actually absorb UV rays,” explains Eric Schweiger, M.D., founder of Schweiger Dermatology in New York.

The most common ingredients in physical sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. When it comes to chemical sunscreens, there’s a much wider range of ingredients. Some of the most common include avobenzone, oxybenzone and ecamsule (better known by its trade name, Mexoryl).

So is either physical or chemical sunscreen superior to the other? When it comes to protection, zinc oxide is the hands-down winner. It blocks the entire UV spectrum all by itself. Titanium dioxide is in second place, and both are ideal for sensitive skin. “They tend to be less irritating,” explains Dr. Schwieger. Physical sunscreens are also a better pick if you need to head outside immediately. “They work immediately to reflect UV light, unlike chemical sunscreens, which need to be absorbed for 30 minutes before they work effectively,” says Arielle Kauvar, M.D., founding director of New York Laser and Skincare.

The drawback? Physical sunscreens have a bad reputation for thick formulas that leave a white film on the skin. But recent technology has allowed for companies to create physical sunscreens that are lightweight and sheer.

Two good physical sunscreens to try:
Pratima Neem Rose Sunscreen SPF 30, $18
MD Solar Sciences Mineral Screen Gel SPF 30+, $30 

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