Everyone needs sunscreen to protect their skin from damage caused by excessive exposure to the sun, but not everyone understands how to use sunscreen effectively. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there are three things to look for in a sunscreen:
• Sun Protection Factor no less than 30
• Broad-spectrum (for UVA and UVB rays)
• Water resistance
This is the minimum recommendation from the AAD for protecting your skin against the sun’s harmful rays when you will be participating in outdoor activities in direct sunlight.
When to Use Sunscreen
Anytime you expect to be in direct sunlight for more than a few minutes, you should apply sunscreen. While most people only think to use sunscreen when they are visiting the beach or gardening, any bright day where you are outside can expose you to harmful UVA and UVB rays, even during the winter months. People who enjoying skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing are no more immune to sunburn than those who enjoy playing baseball or tennis. The sun’s rays can damage your skin in any season, not just summer.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) refers to a sunscreen’s ability to block sunburn-causing ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Most sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher do a great job of protecting against UVB. The higher the SPF rating, the longer it will take for skin to noticeably burn. In terms of percentages, SPF 15 filters out approximately 93% of incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%. These may seem like marginal differences, but they’re meaningful especially if you have a history of skin cancer. But no sunscreen blocks all UVB rays, so it’s still important to seek shade whenever possible, and reapply sunscreen often.
Remember to Reapply
Being active outdoors is great, but you need to make sure your skin is protected at all times. When biking, running, or doing any activity that causes you to sweat, you need to reapply sunscreen every two hours. When swimming, it is especially important to dry your skin and reapply sunscreen after leaving the water. If you are using a non-waterproof sunscreen, you may want to reapply no less than every hour, which may mean leaving the water and reapplying for maximum protection. For waterproof sunscreens, it is best to reapply after two hours or follow the directions on the container.
Become an Advocate
Once you know how to use sunscreen effectively, you can become an advocate for sun safety by helping others use sunscreen effectively. Encourage your friends to take an interest in their skin health. If you have kids, talk to them as you apply their sunscreen so they understand why you are putting it on them. You also can be an advocate by visibly reapplying your own sunscreen while you are out in the sun.
For more information on how to reduce your risk of skin cancer, and for additional educational resources, visit our home page or contact us directly.