Dermatologists caution: Look at more than SPF
The choice of sunscreens can be
overwhelming, especially during the summer months. Walk down any
store aisle stocked with sunscreen, and you may see SPFs that range
from single to triple digits. Some sunscreens offer broad-spectrum
protection. Others include insect repellant. You also are likely to
find some bottles labeled sunscreen, while others read sunspray,
suncream, or sunblock. Our 4-point checklist tells you what to look
SPF of 30 or greater
Short for “Sun Protection Factor,” the SPF tells you how
well a product blocks ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, also known
as the rays that cause sunburn.
An SPF of 15 screens 93% of the UVB rays and an SPF of 30
screens 97% of the UVB rays. While a sunscreen with a higher
SPF can be beneficial for people with very fair complexions
and those visiting a tropical or sun-intense region, even
sunscreen with an extremely high SPF cannot screen out 100%
of UVB rays.
SPF does not equal how
many hours one can stay in the sun without burning.
To protect your skin, sunscreen must be reapplied
approximately every 2 hours even on cloudy days — and
after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
Since SPF only indicates UVB protection, the American
Academy of Dermatology recommends broad-spectrum sunscreen.
“Broad spectrum” means the sunscreen also offers protection
from ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which are the rays that age
the skin. The label may say, “broad spectrum” or “UVA and
UVA protection is extremely important. UVA rays penetrate
the skin more deeply than UVB rays. Exposure to UVA can lead
to wrinkles and other signs of aging. Both UVA and UVB rays
can cause skin cancer. Be sure to purchase a sunscreen that
offers broad-spectrum protection.
All sunscreens wash, rub, or sweat off, so there really is
no such thing as “waterproof” sunscreen. A sunscreen can be
“water-resistant.” This means the product stays on the skin
longer if it gets wet. You will need to reapply
water-resistant sunscreen, too. Be sure to reapply
approximately every 2
hours and after swimming, sweating, and toweling off. Each
time you apply the sunscreen, be sure to apply generously.
Make sure you like the product
Dermatologists often say that the best sunscreen is the one
that you will use. Whether you buy a lotion, spray, gel, wax
stick, or cream really is a matter of personal preference.
Just make sure that you like it.
Buy a product for your lips.
Skin cancer can develop on the lips, too — and be quite
aggressive. The thought of applying the sunscreen that you just
rubbed on the rest of your skin can be unappealing. Some
sun-protection products are formulated specifically for the
lips, and some lip balms offer sun protection. Be sure to select
one that offers an SPF of at least 30 and broad-spectrum
Buy insect repellant separately.
While a product that contains insect repellant and sunscreen can
be convenient, dermatologists generally recommend buying
sunscreen and insect repellant separately. Sunscreens should be
applied liberally approximately every 2 hours, but insect
repellant should be applied sparingly every 6 hours. Applying a
product that contains insect repellant too often can increase
the risk of toxicity. Waiting 6 hours to reapply sunscreen
limits sun protection.
Makeup with an SPF has limits.
Makeup that offers an SPF of 30 or greater and broad-spectrum
coverage is ideal for incidental sun exposure (exposure you get
every day without thinking about it, such as walking to and from
If you expect to be in the sun for longer than 10 to 15 minutes,
dermatologists generally recommend applying sunscreen under your
makeup — even if the makeup has an SPF. The sunscreen should
offer an SPF of 30 or greater, UVA and UVB protection, and water
resistance. And, yes, the sunscreen should be reapplied
approximately every 2 hours and after sweating, swimming, or
toweling off. Sunscreen tends to break down over time and rub
off with normal wear.
Sun exposure is the most preventable
risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. It is
important to know that wearing sunscreen alone does not offer 100%
protection from the sun. Seeking shade during peak daylight hours
and wearing sun protective clothing also are important.
American Academy of Dermatology. “Facts About Sunscreens.” Available
accessed June 23, 2009.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Sun Protection.” Page last
updated April 30, 2009. Available at
Last accessed June 23, 2009.
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
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