Choosing the best sunscreen for your skin
Sunscreen application.

It’s easy to just say: “wear your sunscreen,” but choosing one that fits your lifestyle and your skin type can be challenging. Some ingredients in sunscreens can cause skin sensitivities, while others are greasy and aren’t best for every day use.

Not only do you as a consumer need to be wary about choosing a sunscreen, but in Canada, companies that make sunscreen have to follow certain health and safety requirements in order for them to be imported, advertised, or sold to the public. Health Canada has released a “Sunscreen Monograph” which is a document that aims to “provide assistance to industry and health care professionals on how to comply with governing statutes and regulations.” This detailed study was made to highlight the legal amounts of medicinal ingredients allowed for sunscreens to be sold on shelves, and as a result forces sunscreen companies to make better, safer products. Sunscreens must meet requirements made by Canada’s Food and Drugs Act to ensure that the safest products are available to consumers.

The report states that:

“All sunscreens providing broad spectrum protection with a SPF value ≥ 15, may use the following statement verbatim as follows:
‘The sun may cause sunburn, premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. Avoiding the sun, wearing protective clothing and regular use of sunscreens over the years reduces the chance of these harmful effects.'”

This warning is a great reminder to cover up and seek shade in addition to wearing sunscreen. The risk of melanoma is heightened when these precautions are not taken seriously.

SPF protection

The minimum SPF protection that should be in your daily sunscreen is SPF 30. SPF 30 provides the recommended amount of coverage, as long as it is reapplied after swimming and sweating. Try avoiding sunscreens that advertise SPF values greater than SPF 50+ as they do not actually provide stronger coverage.  They offer about the same protection as SPF 30 and need to be reapplied just like other sunscreens in order to be effective. It is a myth that SPF 50+ lasts longer and does not need to be reapplied.

Lotion vs. Spray

When choosing between lotion or spray sunscreen, the best choice seems like a spray bottle for grab-and-go coverage, but using a mineral-based sunscreen cream is generally better for all around protection. The larger, white particles in lotions offer better UVA protection than clear sprays. The visible coverage of lotions ensures that you’re not missing a spot when applying and ensures that a thicker layer (approximately 2 mm) is applied.
If you tend to have oily skin, try using an oil-free lotion that offers the same great protection, but without a greasy residue.
If you have sensitive skin, try a fragrance-free sunscreen that won’t irritate your skin or eyes.

Broad Spectrum Protection

Ultraviolet wavelengths have 3 different categories: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA and UVB rays can cause melanoma, whereas UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and the environment.

UV Rays

Three different types of UV rays and their effect on skin.

Because UVC rays are absorbed by the environment, sunscreen only needs to protect against UVA and UVB rays. However, majority of sunscreens only have protection against UVB rays. For the safest coverage, look for “broad spectrum protection”when choosing a sunscreen, which offers protection against both types of harmful UV rays.

All in all, the best type of sunscreen for protecting your skin is a broad spectrum, SPF 30 lotion that is white in colour and can be applied with a thick layer for UV protection. For more recommendations, visit the Canadian Dermatology Association website for a list of sunscreen products they recognize. And for further reading on selecting the right sunscreen, check out this article published by the Globe and Mail.