Your Biggest Questions About Sunscreen, Answered by a Pro

From how often to apply to the ingredients that make it work, a local dermatologist tells all


Don’t Budge

Q: How often should I apply a coat of sunscreen while I’m outdoors? — @meshawn_l, via Instagram
A: “Each sunscreen, no matter the SPF number, lasts for two hours,” says Dr. Brittany Carter-Snell, dermatologist and owner of Carter-Snell Skin Center in Midtown. If you expect to swim or break a heavy sweat, she advises opting for a water-resistant formula — prepare to reapply often. Try PCA Skin Active Broad Spectrum SPF 45 Water-Resistant, $36; at

“The higher the SPF, the more of a chalky cast you’ll notice on darker complexions. Safely, an ultra-sheer product with SPF 50 will be great.”
— Dr. Brittany Carter-Snell, D.O.

Top Coat

Q: Is it enough for skincare to have protection or should makeup have it as well? — @briekeers, via Instagram
A: “Moisturizer with a built-in SPF of 30 is just as effective as sunscreen with SPF 30. However, if you apply moisturizer with SPF 30 and layer makeup with SPF 15 on top, that does not equal SPF 45. You’re only going to have an SPF of 30.”

For makeup, Carter-Snell suggests a powder formula that brushes on easily for reapplication throughout the day. Try Carter Snell Skin Center Tinted Physical Sunscreen SPF 50, $43, at Carter Snell Skin Center, 72 Erskine St., Detroit; 313-338-8007;; and Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50, $65, at

Head to Toe

Q: Do you have to spray your scalp if you’re wearing styles with parts? — Trice Clark, via email
A: “Any area that has skin exposure, including the scalp, is prone to sun damage, so yes, you will have to apply sunscreen.”

For those experiencing hair loss or thinning, Carter-Snell also recommends applying sunscreen to hair strands. “People tend to really like gel formulas because they go directly onto the scalp without leaving residue.” Try Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen, $32, at Bluemercury, 172 W. Maple Rd., Birmingham; 248-258-3100;

Special Attention

Q: What sunscreen is good for tattoos? — @bbr_me_asap, via Instagram
A: “Once the tattoo is healed, you can use the same type of sunscreen that you would apply to normal skin. While it is healing, do not apply sunscreen directly onto the skin.” Carter-Snell offers the same advice for patients nursing a wound or recovering from an invasive procedure like a chemical peel. “To avoid unwanted discoloration, keep out of direct sunlight for about a week and double-protect your skin when outdoors by wearing hats, long sleeves, and other protective clothing.” Visit for safe cover-ups.

“UVB rays are most responsible for sunburns, while UVA rays cause premature aging. Both increase your risk for skin cancer. Broad-spectrum sunscreens shield skin from UVA and UVB rays.” 
— Dr. Brittany Carter-Snell

Level Up

Q: Does anything over SPF 15 really matter? — @fsareini, via Instagram
A: “SPF 15 is the bare-minimum. It’s going to help prevent sun damage that can lead to uneven skin tone, brown spots, hyperpigmentation, and freckles, but it won’t protect against skin cancer.” In previous years, SPF levels above 50 were often deemed marketing ploys, however, Carter-Snell says, “the higher, the better. Today, products don’t break down like they used to.” Try Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 100+, $13; at drugstores.


Make Up By Brittany Garner
Hair Styling By Kristina Beaty
Prop Styling By Stephanie Potts
Photography Assistance By Garrett Maclean
Talent: Awa Florence, MP Management


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