I?m not suggesting that sun exposure is bad; it's a particularly important source of Vitamin D which many of us in the Northern Hemisphere lack in winter months. That being said, spending long periods of time under the sun can result in significant damage to your skin. UV radiation from the sun is quoted as the number one cause of skin cancer and as skin cancer rates in the US continue to rise, it will ever more important to know how to adequately protect yourself.
But there are so many sunscreen choices available at the drugstore or from the physician, so it can be daunting trying to find the right one. My first advice is to find an effective sunscreen that you?ll ACTUALLY use. I know that I?ve bought bottles that I?ve used once and left at the bottom of the drawer for the rest of the year. Different sunscreens have different textures and fragrances, so find one that you like and make sure to reapply throughout the day if you stay outside. It's even possible to get a moisturizer with SPF or powdered make-up foundations with SPF as well.
Next, look at the ingredients. More physicians are discussing the difference of physical blocks vs. chemical screens, including the potential dangers of absorption of chemicals that can be damaging to the body. While I have yet to find a study that will make me avoid chemical sunscreens altogether, they are only capable of protecting UVB rays whereas physical blocks tend to have broad spectrum coverage of almost all UVA and UVB rays. So look for something with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, both of which are FDA-approved physical blockers.
And if you still need incentive to start scouting out a sunscreen, as an added bonus sunscreens have also recently been proven help to prevent signs of aging, including wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and sagging of the skin!