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The Skinny on Sunscreen

Choosing sunscreen can be confusing, but all travelers should pack some.

Fortunately, as you ponder sprays, sticks, lotions and gels with various UV levels and ingredients, there is actually very little you need to know.

“Sunscreens fail for two reasons,” said Dr. Neal Schultz, a New York dermatologist in practice for 30 years. “Either you don’t put on enough or you don’t reapply.”

Because of this, Schultz says that liking the way your sunscreen feels and smells could be more important than the kind you use, as long as your choice has broad-spectrum UV protection with an SPF of at least 30.

If it follows the above guidelines and is sold in the U.S., Schultz says you don’t even need to worry about your sunscreen’s ingredients. “That’s all been done by the government and by the manufacturer,” he said.

Schultz says sunscreen lotions are easiest to apply and you should use about an ounce. Spray-on sunscreens are fine, except that people often miss spots. Put on your sunscreen before you put on your clothes or bathing suit for best coverage. Pay particular attention to the tops of the ears, tops of the feet and back of the neck. Men with thinning hair also need to cover those patches.

For the face, Schultz recommends using sunscreen pads, which contain light formulas that won’t run into your eyes if you sweat. Products that claim to be for sun protection, moisturizer and anti-aging generally include just trace amounts of the active ingredients, so he advises against them.

Your skin constantly perspires. “That’s why you need to reapply every two to three hours, even if you’re sitting under a tree reading and you haven’t moved a muscle,” said Schultz.

So, in the sunscreen aisle, look for products that smell good, feel good on your skin – and even have packaging you like. “A cardinal rule of skin care is you’ve gotta love your skin care product or you’re not going to use it,” Schultz said.

Need to brush up on your sunscreen basics? Check out our guide to understanding SPF.

What do you like most about your sunscreen? Share your recommendations with other readers in the comments section.

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