How to Choose a Sunscreen that’s Safe and Effective

Protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays by knowing what to look for ?in a good sunscreen product?

Credit: Job Shlabotnik

Studies show most folks only use 25% of the recommended amount of sunscreen

It’s officially summer and time to stand in the drugstore aisle staring at the vast array of sunscreen products on offer. How do you choose?

Start by looking for only those that have the seal of the Canadian Dermatology Association. Good sunscreens block both UVA and UVB rays, are less likely to cause skin irritation and are at least water resistant. And keep in mind that those with fewer ingredients tend to be better for folks with sensitive skin.

Preferred Sunscreen Ingredients

The type of ingredients is key. To help protect against the harmful UVA rays that cause aging, wrinkles and skin cancer, look for products that contain a combination of micronized titanium dioxide, Parsol 1789 or Mexoryl XL.

To block the UVB burning rays, check the SPF or “sun protection factor” number. The number roughly allows you to stay out in the sun that duration of time longer than you could without protection (e.g., if you normally burn within 10 minutes, an SPF of 30 would allow you to stay out for 300 minutes).

Avoid sunscreens containing the ingredient oxybenzone. This chemical can actually increase your risk of cancer from sunscreen.

When to Apply Sunscreen

Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before heading outside and then reapplied every two hours, or immediately after swimming, even if it’s waterproof.

It’s also important to use enough sunscreen. Studies show that most folks only use about 25 per cent of the recommended amount. For the average-size person, you need about a quarter of a regular-size bottle (about a golf ball-sized amount or a shot glass full).

Sunscreen and Vitamin D Deficiency

A note about the vitamin D controversy: Many have expressed concern that sun-protection strategies block us from getting enough sunshine in order for our bodies to manufacture vitamin D, thereby contributing to a vitamin deficiency.

A plethora of research over the past two years has suggested a vitamin D deficiency may contribute to MS, heart disease and certain types of cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society has recommended a daily intake of 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 for adults, either from food or supplements in winter when our northern latitude prevents us from getting enough atmospheric exposure for vitamin D synthesis.

Experts suggest that the average person only needs about 10 minutes of unprotected summer sun on their arms and face to manufacture sufficient levels of vitamin D. Since most people don’t tend to put on enough sunscreen, the vast majority of folks still get enough vitamin D.

As with everything, we have to balance the benefits of using sunscreen against the potential risk of a vitamin D deficiency. The way I see it, getting enough vitamin D from the sun doesn’t take much and you can always top up with a supplement, but there’s still no pill or any easier way to prevent skin cancer and wrinkles.

For a list of sunscreens recognized by the Canadian Dermatology Association, visit

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.