UPDATED: Mar 26, 2020
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It’s that time of year again. School is out, the clouds have parted, and people are flocking to the beach. It’s summertime, and you know what that means — sunburn season. The increased heat and the decreased amount of clothing mean you need to be extra careful with your precious skin. Sunscreen is one way to help protect your skin from sunburn and skin cancers.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The SPF number lets you know how much longer you can stay out of the sun without burning. For example, if it takes 15 minutes for a person to burn, an SPF 15 will allow them to stay out in the sun 15 times longer without burning. Warning: The science is not exact! And unless the product passes the broad-spectrum test, it won’t protect against UVA rays. The higher the SPF number, the better protection against the sun’s harmful UVB rays.
SPF’s 50 and higher are currently subject to review by the FDA. There is a discussion now of restricting SPF to no more than 50 for two reasons: higher SPF’s are harder to measure, and they give a false sense of security. You can’t safely spend unlimited time in the sun! The goal is to encourage people to avoid the sun, either by seeking shade, wearing broad-brimmed hats and long-sleeve shirts or going indoors. Sunscreens should be the last line of defense against sun damage, not the first and only. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing an SPF of 15 or higher for maximum protection.
UVA and UVB Protection
The label of the sunscreen will indicate the UVA or UVB protection. About 95 percent of the solar radiation that reaches Earth is ultraviolet A, the longest rays. UVA rays shine year round and penetrate clouds and glass. They also age the skin and cause wrinkles, and may contribute to skin cancer. Shorter than UVA, ultraviolet B rays are more intense, more variable by season and time of day, and cause sunburn and consequent wrinkling and aging as well as basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. You should choose a product that offers protection for both, or broad spectrum protectant.
Waterproof and Water-Resistant
If you are looking for a sunscreen to use while in the water, choose a sunscreen that is waterproof or water resistant. Waterproof sunscreen should provide protection in the water for 80 minutes, while water resistant provides only 40 minutes of protection. In the very near future the words waterproof, sun block and sweat-proof will no longer be allowed on labels as the FDA believe the words mislead consumers into thinking they don’t have to reapply after swimming or sweating. New labels will be a bit more clear, stating the product is water-resistant up to 40 minutes. Once your 40 is up, you need to reapply. You should also reapply immediately after towel-drying and at least every two hours.
Dosage and Expiration Date
Most people apply too little sunscreen. If you’re spending the day outdoors, use more than an ounce of water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapply every two hours. For everyday use, a lotion with SPF 15 is adequate. Pay attention to the expiration date. The effectiveness of sun-protective chemicals diminishes over time.