Sunscreen basics you should know

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Learn why you need to wear sunscreen everyday to protect your beautiful skin from long-term UV damage, premature aging, and skin cancer.

Wearing sunscreen everyday is hands down the best thing you can do to have healthy, beautiful skin. Not only does sunscreen protect you from skin cancer, it is also the most effective defense against most skin problems such as age spots, pigmentation, and wrinkles. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you should wear sunscreen whenever you’re outside, regardless of the season or climate (yes, even when it’s overcast, because up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin.)

What SPF level should you look for?

Use sunscreens with 30 SPF or above. Higher SPF sunscreens will block more of the UVB rays, but there is a point of diminishing return. No sunscreen can block 100% of the radiation. You should be fine as long as you choose the correct range of SPF and apply it frequently (typically every 2 hours).

What does ‘broad spectrum’ means?

The broad spectrum label means the sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays. UVB ray is responsible for sunburn and most skin cancers. UVA ray is responsible for premature aging of the skin and causing wrinkles as well as skin cancer.


When they find me, I’ll just be a desiccated husk dressed in denim. All because I forgot sunscreen!

What does PA+++ mean?

Most Asian sunscreens use the PA rating system. PA stands for Protection Grade of UVA. It is often used to measure the amount of UVA protection the sunscreen has. PA+ corresponds to a UVA protection factor between two and four, PA++ between four and eight, and PA+++ more than eight. Sometimes you may see an even higher rating of PA++++, which is a PPD rating of 16 or above.

How much sunscreen to use?

Face: You should use at least one teaspoon on your face (not including the neck). Most people don’t apply enough because they don’t like the greasy texture or the white cast of the sunscreen. However, there are fantastic sunscreens out there that are lightweight, non-greasy, AND do not leave a white cast. See our guides at the end of this post to find the right sunscreen for you.

Body: The general rule is 1 ounce, or enough to fill a shotglass to cover the exposed areas of the body. You may need to adjust depending on your body size.

Bonus: Don’t forget your lips! Skin cancer can form on the lips, so be sure to apply lip balm with at least SPF30.

What’s the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens?

First thing first, don’t get turned off by the word ‘chemical’. When you see a sunscreen being listed as ‘chemical’ or ‘physical’, it simply denotes what kind of filter ingredients the sunscreen contains (inorganic/non-active vs active).

Physical sunscreen

  • Contains inorganic mineral ingredients as filters, mainly titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
  • Protects you by deflecting UV rays from the skin
  • Works immediately after application
  • Tends to have a white cast (from the titanium dioxide or zinc oxide)
  • Tends to be thick and greasy, hard to spread
  • Safe for all skin types, especially sensitive skin.

Check out this guide for a list of 100% physical sunscreens.

Chemical sunscreen

  • Contains active ingredients such as oxybenzone, PABA, or avobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octylcrylene, homosalate
  • Protects you by absorbing the UV rays and preventing them from penetrating the skin
  • Must wait 15-30 minutes after application to work
  • No white cast
  • Light and non-greasy, absorbs quickly
  • Safe for most skin types. May irritate sensitive skin (due to the active ingredients) PS: Here are the best sunscreens for sensitive skin we’ve found. 

Keep in mind that some sunscreens can be a mix of physical and chemical and contain ingredients from both categories, to maximize the benefits and minimize the downsides.

Check out our sunscreen guides by skin type to find which products are most suitable for you:


  1. Sunscreen FAQs. The American Academy of Dermatology.
  2. University of Iowa Health Library.
Categories: Skincare