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How To Choose the Right Sunblock

Updated on July 9, 2011
This is an example of what sunscreen looks like.  I think this guy went a little overboard.
This is an example of what sunscreen looks like. I think this guy went a little overboard.

Sunscreen vs. sunblock

Many people confuse sunscreen and sunblock as being exactly the same product but they are not! Sunscreen is responsible for absorbing the sun's rays so that is doesn't reach your skin whereas sunblock is used to physically block the sun's UV rays.

Sunscreen is typically a pure white, visible cream that is very messy. Although sunscreens do protect against both UVA and UVB rays they break down after exposure to sunlight so it will need to be reapplied every few hours to fully protect your skin.

Sunblock on the other hand is invisible once properly applied and blocks a majority of the suns UVA and UVB rays.  Unlike sunscreen, a good sunblock doesn't need to be reapplied every few hours.

So, which of these should you use?  Depending on your age and amount of time in the sun the answer could be either or both.  However, for most people the answer should be a sunblock.

The importance of sunblock

Basking in the sun for up to 15 minutes each day without sunblock is encourged to absorb the necessary Vitamin D needed for healthy, strong bones and teeth. However, being outside in the sun for prolonged periods of time without protecting your skin can lead to wrinkles, sun burns,  and skin cancers.  Most people turn to sunblock to protect their skin from the harmful rays of the sun.  However, not all sunblock is created equal and if not used properly can be completely ineffective.

How do I know what sunblock is the best?

The first item to consider when purchasing sunblock is the SPF or Sun Protection Factor which is usually indicated by a number on the bottle.  Now most people assume that the higher the SPF the more protection you have. Unfortunately, this is not always true.  The SPF indicates how effective the product is at protecting your skin from burning as a result of exposure to UVB rays.  For most people an SPF of 15 is fine.  For children or people with fair skin it is recommended to use an SPF of 30 or higher. 

But what about the UVA rays?  They are just as dangerous.

Unfortunately, there is no rating system to determine how good a sunblock is at protecting your skin from UVA rays.  This is why it is extremely important to read the ingredient list. Sunblocks that contain titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, and oxybenzone with an SPF of 30 or higher are considered broad-spectrum sunblocks and are the best at protecting your skin.

Another important aspect to consider is whether you will be exercising or swimming while wearing sunblock as sweat and water will wash away the application leaving you unprotected. However, understanding what "water resistant sunblock" really means can save you a lot of headaches.  No sunblock is truly water resistant and should be reapplied every 40 - 80 minutes but you should always read the instructions on the bottle to determine this.

Finally, buy a brand you like.  With so  many choices available, it is possible to find a product that meets all the guidelines set forth above and is something that you are comfortable using.

Some really good brands to purchase are:

  • Blue Lizard Australian Suncream for Baby
  • Blue Lizard Australian Suncream for Sensitive Skin
  • Neutrogena Sunblock Lotion for Sensitive Skin
  • BullFrog Superblock
  • Neutrogena Helioplex

I bought my sunblock now how do I properly apply it?

Even if you buy the most expensive brand of sunblock that has an SPF of 50, all of the important ingredients, and is super-extra water resistant it will be useless unless you properly apply it to your skin each time. So, how do you do this you ask? Here are some easy tips:

  • Apply a quarter sized dab (approximately a 1/4 teaspoon) on your face with a higher concentration on your nose, tips of your ears, and your forehead where you are more likely to burn.
  • Apply sunblock 15 - 30 minutes BEFORE going in the sun--not right before walking out the door and not after you are already outside.
  • Do not use sunblock on your lips!
  • Reapply at consist intervals as directed on the bottle.
  • You should use one ounce of sunblock (the amount needed to fill a shot glass) to cover all exposed areas of your skin.
  • Apply generously and lighlty rub it into your skin.

Don't forget that sunglasses are just as important as sunblock!


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    • profile image

      shaving creams for men 6 years ago

      Thanks for the effort, keep up the good work Great work, I am going to start a small Blog Engine course work using your site I hope you enjoy blogging with the popular Blog The thoughts you express are really awesome. Hope you will right some more posts.

    • FirstStepsFitness profile image

      FirstStepsFitness 8 years ago

      Great information ! I would like to add something to sunglasses ....wear a wide brim hat solid material NOT a baseball hat . It not only protects your eyes , face and ears but it protects your hair and top of the head ! After two surgeries for basel cell carcinoma my plastic surgeon recommended at hat and stay out of the sun 10 am to 4 pm

    • AllMomNeeds2know profile image

      AllMomNeeds2know 8 years ago

      Great information on sun block! Thanks


    • NYMiskovic profile image

      Kara Leigh Miller 8 years ago from Oswego, NY

      REdElf -- Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you liked it!

      jim10 -- Unfortunately that is a difficult choice that needs to be made: sunblock with chemicals or exposed skin with the possibility of skin cancer years down the road.

      yamanote -- I thought the photo was funny too : )

    • yamanote profile image

      yamanote 8 years ago from UK/Spain

      haha, i like that photo!

    • jim10 profile image

      jim10 8 years ago from ma

      Sunblock seems to be a necessary evil. I hate all of the harsh chemicals in them that we really don't know much about. Yet we need it so we don't get a sunburn. I try to stick with ones for sensitive skin because the ingredients seem to be less scary looking. I almost got Blue Lizard once but, went with Burt's Bees. The Burt's Bees worked great and smelled nice. But, it left ugly yellow stains on our sleeves and collars. One of my son's and I can at least get some sun exposure if we slowly build up to it without too much trouble. My older son has red hair and cute freckles so he easily burns no matter what. So I do my best to cover him well even if we are only out for a little while. It doesn't help that he hates when I put it on and freaks out. My wife has another issue. Even if she uses sunblock she ends up with a rash from the sun if out for extended time.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Nice info. Thanks for another interesting hub.