How to Choose the Right Sunscreen for Your Skin Type

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I was dreaming of a trip to Australia and found this great article about how to dress for its city life and beautiful beaches.  Then it occurred to me that I needed to think about protecting my skin from that powerful Aussie sun.  A walk through a cosmetic aisle spun my head.  There was definitely more to think about than choosing a product with a high SPF rating.  With my acne-prone skin and bouts of rosacea, I knew I would have to up my sunscreen game. 

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A knowledgeable cosmetic expert at the beauty counter of my drugstore taught me that I was really only choosing between two types of sunscreen — chemical and physical sunscreens.  Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays and convert them to heat and contain substances such as PABA and oxybenzone.  Physical sunscreens, also called mineral sunscreens, are either made of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and deflect rays so they aren’t absorbed by the skin.  They can leave a chalky white film on your skin that acts as the physical barrier to damaging rays.   What’s right for you will depend on a number of factors, but here’s a few to consider:

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For Sports Enthusiasts and Babies

Babies, because of their sensitive skin, and sports enthusiasts, because of the time they spend outdoors sweating need a great deal of sun protection, so having a physical barrier between skin and sun is a good choice.  You’ve probably seen surfers with a big dab of white on their noses —  that’s because rays reflecting off the sand and water increase the risk of a bad sunburn.   The downside is that the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can leave a tell-tale chalky white film, especially problematic on darker skin, and is also more difficult to wipe off.  For a simple day lounging at the beach, look for products with zinc oxide as it will leave your skin looking less chalky.

For Dry Skin

Look for products labeled creams, ointments or lotions with SPF.  Moisturizing sunscreens contain lanolins, oils, and silicones such as dimethicone that protect skin from drying.  Avoid physical sunscreens, on the other hand,  which tend to absorb oil, leaving skin even drier and flaky.

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If you have Acne-Prone Skin or Rosacea

Sunscreen for sensitive skin — you will definitely want to look for products labeled oil-free or anti-pore clogging (sometimes labeled non-comedogenic).   These products are usually agrance, preservative and alcohol-free physical/mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  Stay away from chemical sunscreens as they can cause itching, tingling, redness, and inflammation in sensitive skin. 

Taking It Off

Don’t forget to remove your sunscreen off at the end of the day.  Most sunscreens are water repellent so you’ll want to use an oil cleanser designed for acne-prone skin to wipe it all off so it doesn’t clog your pores.

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