This article originally appeared in Abington-Jefferson Health’s Ideas for Healthy Living E-Newsletter.
Protecting your skin from the sun during the summer is important not just to avoid sunburns, but also to prevent premature aging and skin cancer.
Although sunscreen is one of the best tools to prevent all of that, picking one out at a store can be overwhelming and confusing – there are so many different kinds with varying SPF levels to choose from.
Michael Stierstorfer, MD, a dermatologist on staff at Abington – Lansdale Hospital, offers some tips for choosing sunscreen and how best to apply it for complete protection.
1. Look for SPF 30 and broad spectrum sunscreen
“In general, we dermatologists recommend broad spectrum sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30,” he said. “The SPF numbers you see on a sunscreen bottle refer to protection from ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun.”
UVB rays are the harmful rays from the sun that cause sunburns. But you also need to protect yourself from ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.
“UVA rays are often referred to as the ‘safe rays’ or ‘tanning rays,’ but it’s important to protect against both types of ultraviolet light because both damage the skin,” Dr. Stierstorfer said. “UVA rays penetrate the skin deeper than UVB rays and can do just as much damage as UVB.”
Because of that, you also want to make sure your sunscreen is broad spectrum, which means it protects against the entire spectrum of ultraviolet rays, including UVA and UVB.
2. You won’t find “water proof” sunscreen at the store
“The FDA no longer allows labeling sunscreens as ‘water proof,’” Dr. Stierstorfer said. “If you’re swimming, look for one that’s labeled ‘water resistant.’”
When using a water-resistant sunscreen, know that it’s water resistant for 40 or 80 minutes, and then you will need to reapply.
3. Apply it before going outside
“Sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes before going out in the sun and every two hours while in the sun,” Dr. Stierstorfer said. It’s important to continuously reapply when you’re outdoors because the sun can degrade sunscreen and make it less effective, plus sweating and swimming can cause it to wear off.
4. More is more when it comes to sunscreen
People tend to use too little sunscreen and miss certain spots when they’re applying.
“One-ounce, the same amount as a shot glass, is enough to protect sun-exposed areas like the face, ears, neck, arms and lower legs. If you’re on the beach, you’ll need more to cover more skin,” he said.
And the spots you’re probably forgetting to apply sunscreen to? According to Dr. Stierstorfer, it’s your ears, lips, the part in your hair, and the top of your feet.
5. Look at your shadow
“When your shadow is shorter than you are, which is usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., you should be taking the most precaution,” he said. “Seek shade during these hours and use an umbrella at the shore or by the pool.”
6. Use more than sunscreen to protect your skin
While you should always wear sunscreen when you’re outside, there are more options to protect your skin.
“There’s now a big industry for sun protective clothing, including swimwear. Look for sun protective clothing with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30,” Dr. Stierstorfer advised. You can also use wide-brimmed hats, UV-filtering sunglasses and lip balm with SPF for your lips.
7. Your baby may be too young for sunscreen
Babies have sensitive skin that is more prone to getting burned than adults, so sun protection is incredibly important. However, babies need to reach a certain age before you apply sunscreen to their skin.
“Babies less than one year of age should be protected with sun protective clothing and shade, not with sunscreen,” Dr. Stierstorfer said.