Yes, you can still go outside to exercise and breathe some fresh air. Just remember to social distance (6 feet!)—and to apply sunscreen before you head out.
If it’s been a while since you reached for the sunscreen, either because of the quarantine or you forgot about it over the winter—applying sunscreen should be a year-round habit, but you didn’t come here to be reprimanded—here are explanations of some of the most common descriptors you’ll find on a bottle of sunscreen, so you can feel confident you’re getting what you want and need, whether that’s a formula that won’t irritate your skin or one that won’t come off with a little bit of sweat.
Sunscreen has never been available in so many different kinds, which is great. The trouble is, so much of the language that covers the bottles is purely marketing jargon with little to no factual basis. More on that in a moment. But, first, you should be looking for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, preferably higher during the summer months. Home in on that phrase above all else.
A broad-spectrum sunscreen is one that’s going to protect you from both UVB rays, which burn skin, and UVA rays, which go even deeper and cause damage like collagen breakdown.
It stands for “sun protection factor,” specifically as it relates to UVB rays. The number that appears alongside it is a measure of how much solar energy is required to produce a sunburn on protected skin. In other words, the higher the SPF value, the greater the sunburn protection. SPF is not a measure of UVA protection, which is another reason why it’s important to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
You’ll find lots of related terms, like “sport” and “waterproof,” but water-resistant is the only one regulated by the FDA. So, every sunscreen that features “water-resistant” anywhere on its label is required to undergo the same standardized test.
It’s a term that appears at the manufacturer’s discretion; it’s not something that’s regulated by the FDA. Nor is it ever really specified what exactly has been clinically tested. Some brands conduct their own tests for distinctions like being good for people with sensitive skin, but there’s no way to know how many people they tested it on.
Technical as the term may sound, it’s purely marketing. Manufacturers can use it whether or not they’ve formulated a product with a low likelihood of triggering allergic reactions. If sunscreens tend to irritate your skin, look instead for a fragrance-free mineral formula.
Again, there’s no standardized test administered by the FDA to determine whether a beauty product is likely to cause comedones (pimples). Similarly, “oil-free” means a product doesn’t contain oil, but it still may include other occlusives, like silicone, that can cause breakouts. If you’re acne-prone, avoid sunscreens with a lot of lipids, like coconut oil and cocoa butter, and any oils or silicones. (Names that end in “-siloxane” or “-thicone” indicate a silicone.) And look for one with drying salicylic acid and zinc oxide.
Remember, too: Sunscreen’s only effective when it’s used as directed. So, apply it before going outside and then every two hours after that.