Expert Sunscreen Advice

Dallas-based dermatologist Dr. Clay Cockerell shares his tips for choosing the right sunscreen.
Jessica S. Thuston

Don’t get weighed down by the marketing jargon on sunscreen this summer. Instead, follow the advice of Dr. Clay Cockerell, a Dallas-based dermatologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center. His suggestions are simple: Put on a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 every day (even if you’re spending the day inside), and don’t neglect spots like the ears, neck, and lips. When it’s time to hit the beach or pool, follow Dr. Cockerell’s tips.

Look for a high SPF number. “Higher numbers mean stronger protection and eliminate the need to continually reapply,” he says. For example, SPF 15 offers solid coverage but needs to be reapplied every 2 to 3 hours to stay effective, whereas SPF 80 stays strong all day. He also advises to not waste your time on any SPF number less than 15, as they don’t block 100% of the sun’s rays.

Choose a product that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Sun damage comes in two forms: Ultraviolet A, which causes premature wrinkles and spots, and Ultraviolet B, which burns the skin. Dr. Cockerell says to look for the words “Helioplex,” “Mexoryl,” or “Parsol 1789” on packaging, which are scientific formulations he trusts.

Use a combination daily moisturizer and sunscreen for everyday background protection. But choose a full-fledged sunblock for days spent in the sun. “Combo products are not high-potency sunscreens because they’re diluted by the makeup and lotion,” he says.

Don’t buy separate sunscreens for the face and body. “Almost all the products on the market are oil-free and non-irritating,” he says, “so they’re safe for delicate areas of the body as well.”

Remember: Sunscreen alone is not always enough. If you’ll be under the hot sun all day, try adding a wide-brim hat to protect the tops of your ears, the back of your neck, and other tricky spots.