Does your sunscreen actually work?
Consumer Reports recently tested 65 types of sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, and found that 43 percent failed to meet the SPF on their labels. They tested lotion, sprays and sticks, as well as both mineral- and chemical-based varieties. Overall, mineral-based lotions, with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide, performed worse than their chemical-based counterparts.
Consumer Reports also examined waterproof sunscreens and said their research indicates that “no such product exists,” suggesting that the idea of waterproof sunscreen is anything but.
“Sunscreen is often our first defense against harmful UV exposure, but it shouldn’t be the only,” says Dr. Prameela Chunduru, a hospitalist on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “While we want our products to work as advertised, we also need to be careful to use them properly. Sunscreen needs to be applied liberally and often, especially if someone is getting a lot of sun exposure or getting in and out of the water.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and nearly 5 million Americans are treated for skin cancer every year, even though most skin cancer can be prevented. Everyone is at risk, but having a family history of skin cancer, a lighter natural skin color, regular or extended sun exposure or a large number of moles on the skin can indicate a higher risk.
“Sun safety should always be taken seriously,” says Dr. Chunduru. “Although not always fatal, skin cancer is largely preventable for the average person. It’s particularly important that we take care to protect children, as early overexposure and frequent sunburns can greatly increase their risk of skin cancer later in life.”
Dr. Chunduru offers these tips for staying safe in the sun:
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 50. Even if some sunscreens aren’t living up to their labels, this higher protection should help you meet the safety minimums outlined by the American Academy of Dermatology.
- Check your sunscreen’s expiration date. Do not use and discard if it is expired.
- Apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours, at a minimum. If you are getting in out and of water, reapply more frequently.
- Skip the spray sunscreens. They may be quick to apply, but their coverage is less likely to be complete. They can also irritate the lungs if inhaled during application.
- When outside, wear light, loose clothing to cover your skin whenever possible. Hats can help shade your face and neck from overexposure. If spending time at the beach, consider bringing an umbrella for shade.
- Don’t underestimate cloudy days. It doesn’t always take direct and prolonged sun exposure to get burned.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.