How to choose the right sunscreen
Heading to a cookout or beach this weekend and wondering which sunscreen to pick? Should you choose an SPF 30 sunscreen, one with UVA/UVB protection lotion or water resistance or maybe a spray?
If you don’t know the answer, you are not alone. While more and more Americans are slapping on sunscreen as a way to prevent skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that just one in five actually use it appropriately.
What should you look for on a label?
Dr. Amy Brodsky, dermatologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., says that to use sunscreen correctly, the first thing to know is what to look for on the label.
“Sunscreens should be labeled broad spectrum. This means it will protect against UVA and UVB rays,” she says.
UVA rays cause long term skin damage like premature aging, sunspots, wrinkles and skin cancer while UVB rays cause sunburns and can also lead to skin cancer.
In addition, Dr. Brodsky says to check the water resistance of the sunscreen. Most sunscreens are water resistant for either 40 or 80 minutes, she says, and it is best to choose one that lasts 80 minutes.
“Make sure to use an SPF of at least 30. Anything less than SPF 30 will not offer necessary protection from UVB rays,” Dr. Brodsky says. “However it is important to note that using SPF 30 does not offer you double the protection of SPF 15.”
SPF, which stands for Sun Protection Factor, is a measurement of how long it would take for skin to get sunburned while wearing sunscreen compared to someone wearing no sunscreen. “So wearing an SPF of 30 means it will take 30 times longer to get sunburned than if you were wearing no sunscreen,” she says.
Dr. Brodsky recommends reading the ingredients listed on the label and make sure either zinc or titanium dioxide is listed.
“These provide the best protection because they are not actually absorbed into the skin but instead reflect the light off the skin,” she says. “In addition, they block against both UVA and UVB rays and begin working immediately which is not the case for chemical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens take at least 20 minutes to be absorbed into the skin and start working.”
Finally, Dr. Brodsky advises against sunscreen sprays. “While they may seem easier to use,” she says. “These don’t offer the necessary protection and make it difficult to cover all areas of exposed skin. Instead use lotions or sunscreen sticks when possible.”
How to apply sunscreen correctly
While buying the right bottle of sunscreen is important, Dr. Brodsky says it will be virtually useless in protecting your skin if it’s not applied correctly.
“Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside,” she says. “Sunscreen only provides optimal protection for two hours, so it is important to continually reapply especially if you are sweating or swimming.”
Dr. Brodsky also says to make sure you are using enough sunscreen.
“If you use an SPF 30 sunscreen but not enough of it, then it acts like an SPF 15, which will put you at risk for a sunburn,” she explains. “Each time you apply sunscreen you need to use 2 ounces – or the equivalent of two golf ball dollops of sunscreen. It is important to cover all areas of exposed skin.”
AAD data shows that one person dies every hour from melanoma, so protecting your skin from the sun is incredibly important, she says.
Dr. Brodsky adds that next time you head out in the sun, make sure you check the ingredient of your sunscreen, use an appropriate amount and continually reapply.
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