What should you look for in a sunscreen?

Are you looking for the ideal sunscreen for your family? Here is some information on the elements to focus on when choosing a sunscreen.

Choosing a sunscreen

Sunscreens help us guard against the harmful effects of the sun. Aside from the immediate issues (i.e. sunburn, heatstroke, and dehydration), overexposure to the sun can lead to long-term damage which promotes premature aging and skin cancer.

Awareness about the risks pushes many people to look for the ideal sunscreen that appeals to adults, who can appreciate its virtues, and to children, who will accept to have it applied on their skin without too much fuss! It is easier to use a sunscreen optimally if it appeals to you and if you believe in its benefits. Therefore, in order to be effective, a sunscreen must be applied generously and regularly.

Here are a few factors to consider when choosing the best sunscreen.


Sunscreens often contain a lot of  ingredients and it can be difficult to make a choice. In recent years, some of these ingredients have stirred some controversy because it was said that they could potentially cause:

  • skin irritations
  • allergies
  • hormonal fluctuations, and
  • certain cancers

So, are there really ingredients that should be avoided when choosing a sunscreen? It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions in light of available scientific data, as this information is often insufficient and contradictory. Additionally, the alleged harmfulness of sunscreens is often based on small studies completed on animals. There are currently very few studies that have been done on human subjects.

For now, the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) and Health Canada consider that commercialized sunscreens are safe. Speak to your pharmacist to find out more about the ingredients to avoid or to look for. Pharmacists can provide information based on the latest knowledge and review the list of ingredients with you.

Sun protection factor

The sun protection factor or SPF, always appears on the sun protection product label. It is a measure that provides information as to the degree of sun protection of commercialized formulations. More specifically, it is the ratio between the time it takes for UV rays to produce a sunburn with sunscreen or without. Therefore, theoretically, a person using an SPF of 30 can remain in the sun 30 times longer than a person not using it.

The CDA recommends that Canadians use sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30. People who have reactive or sensitive skin should opt for a higher SPF (40, 45 or 50). An SPF higher than 50 does not really have any additional benefits.

For additional information about SPF, read the following text: What exactly is SPF?

Broad spectrum sun protection

In order to be fully effective, a sunscreen must protect against UVA rays and UVB rays—in other words, broad spectrum—since both of these types of rays cause skin damage.

Many commercialized products offer this protection. Manufacturers can ask for the CDA seal of approval (logo) and affix it to their products’ packaging. Moreover, the logo which has the form of a circle containing the letters “UVA”, is indicative that a product is accepted by Health Canada. Both logos attest that the product protects the skin against UVA.

Photostability and water resistance

Certain ingredients contained in sunscreens can lose their effectiveness when exposed to UV rays. A sun product is said to be photostable when it maintains its protective effects despite exposure to UV rays. Therefore, photostability is a characteristic that should be focussed on.

Ideally, sunscreen should be water resistant. However, even a water resistant product must be reapplied after swimming or excessive sweating. Initial application should be done at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun; subsequent applications should be done every two hours and after swimming or abundant sweating.

Finally, we recommend that you opt for a product that:

  • is unscented
  • is non comedogenic
  • is hypoallergenic
  • is non greasy, and
  • has other characteristics that appeal to you (fragrance, colour, texture, etc.)

Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist when the time comes to choose a sunscreen or to obtain advice about sun protection.


Send to a friend

What should you look for in a sunscreen?

Are you looking for the ideal sunscreen for your family? Here is some information on the elements to focus on when choosing a sunscreen.
Pick up in store
Please click on Search to display the results.
Store change