As the hottest months of the year approach, bottles of Sun Bum and Banana Boat will undoubtedly appear in bulk on shelves at your local supermarket. But these days there’s a huge variety when it comes to sunscreen, from ranging SPF levels to waterproof and mineral varieties. But with all these options (and an even longer ingredients list), how can you decipher what the best form of sun protection for you? We’ve already put the work in—here’s everything you need to know to stay protected, no matter your needs.
No judgement, how many of us honestly lather on SPF before heading out for a weekly darty? We may love the sun here in the 305, but it can damage our skin both above and below the surface. Even so, it’s easy to forget from day to day.
“I always start the season saying ‘I don’t need sunscreen,’ then burn horribly, then religiously use sunscreen reapplying every 1.5 hours,” said University of Miami freshman Claire Connelly.
“I wear sunscreen usually when I go to the beach, but I know I should on a daily basis,” UM senior Fabiana Lara said.
“I don’t think I use it enough and it’s because I don’t make time for it, but I know living in Miami it should be
a bigger priority.”
“Without regular sunscreen use, an individual’s risk of developing skin pre-cancers and all types of skin cancer (increases) with time,” said Deborah Lin, a UM medical student in the lab of dermatologist Miteva Mariya. “More innocuous, but nonetheless observable, consequences of not regularly wearing sunscreen include greatly increased progression of aging, brown sun-spots on the skin (solar lentigines), decreased elasticity and increased wrinkling.”
There are two different types of UV rays that the sun produces, and each of them interact with your skin in different ways. They’re referred to as ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), according to Lin. “While UVA rays are associated with contributing to skin aging and UVB rays are associated with burning, both contribute to the development of skin cancer,” she said.
But this isn’t always obvious. “I buy whatever bottle looks coolest at CVS and has the highest SPF,” said UM sophomore Michelle Turovsky. “Then, I soak myself when I go to the beach. And I still get burnt.”
The SPF rating on most sunscreen labels only reference UVB rays, according to the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center. But sunscreens that are labeled “broad spectrum” protect from both— making this an important thing to look for.
Lin also recommended that students wear at least SPF 30; but beyond that number, a higher sun protection factor doesn’t make much of a difference.
While people with darker skin often tan more easily and take longer to burn, Lin said it is important to wear sunscreen no matter your skin tone. Cases of skin cancer can cause significant harm and even death across all races, even though the risk is higher for lighter-skinned people.
According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of developing melanoma is 1 in 38 for white Americans, 1 in 167 for Latin Americans and 1 in 1,000 for Black Americans.
However, melanoma is typically found later among people of color, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, leading to increased incidents of POC dying from complications with skin cancer. A factor in this may be a lack of education in medical schools about how skin conditions present on Black skin and an abundance of medical reference photos that skew white.
Since many sunscreens can leave a filmy cast on dark skin, it can also take longer for people with darker skin tones to find a brand worth sticking with.
When it comes to actually choosing a brand, one of the first choices you’ll make is between chemical and physical sunscreen.
University of Pennsylvania Medicine describes chemical sunscreens as products that use various ingredients that only absorb into the top layer of the skin. They work by absorbing UV rays and preventing them from
harming the skin.
Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, only include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and reflect the sun’s rays. They are sometimes referred to as “natural or mineral,” according to University of Pennsylvania Medicine. Mariya said she recommends physical sunscreens to her patients.
“Any physical sunscreens (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) are reef safe,” she said.
“These mineral ingredients do not negatively impact coral reefs the same way chemical sunscreens, those with active ingredients like oxybenzone or octinoxate, do. Therefore, it is important for consumers to look at the active ingredients of the products they purchase.”
“As important as it is for dermatologists to address our patients’ skin concerns, it is also our duty to make important choices that do not harm our environment,” Lin added.
Chemical sunscreens wash off your body and into the ocean, which can hinder the growth and reproduction of algae, coral reefs, mussels, fish and dolphins. Some sunscreen companies brag about their product’s water resistance, however, the FDA site cautions: “There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen.”
Companies that hope to claim the “water resistant” label must disclose how long the product remains effective while swimming or sweating. For many, that duration is 80 minutes. Much like greenwashing makes products sound more environmentally conscious, touting water resistance is simply a marketing tactic as all sunscreen products
eventually wash off .
Ultimately, “most dermatologists will agree that the type of sunscreen you like best is the most effective type of sunscreen,” Lin said. “This is because the best way to decrease an individual’s risk for skin cancer is to use
It’s important to wear sunscreen every day, not just at the beach. But when you do venture out to Crandon Park Beach, it may be especially tempting to spray on a quick layer and hop in the water. Resist the urge.
For sunscreen to be effective, it’s important to apply carefully.
It takes at least 20 minutes for the sunscreen to provide the maximum benefit, according to the FDA, so it may be smart to apply before you even reach the beach. It is important to cover all exposed skin including the lips, ears, nose and hands as the FDA names these as the frequently forgotten spots.
If you’re going to be out all day, make sure to apply every two hours — or, Lin recommends to take steps to stay out of the sun during the day when you can.
words_ cat mcgrath. photo_ julia dimarco. design_ keagan larkins.