The overwhelming number and variety of sunscreens available can make choosing the right skin protection for your family a bit daunting. But the right choices could be the difference between a healthy summer and a skin cancer diagnosis.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 82,770 new cases of skin cancer (including 170,000 from indoor tanning) will be diagnosed and more than 12,000 people will die from the disease this year. Rates of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, have been increasing for the past 30 years. (One in four melanoma survivors never wears sunscreen.)
How Do I Pick the Right Sunscreen?
Last summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changes the guidelines for sunscreen packaging to make it easier for consumers to choose the most effective products. (Educate yourself on which brands have been pulled from the marketplace.) For instance, companies are no longer allowed to claim that their products have an SPF (sun protection factor) of 100 because there’s no adequate test to support the claim. Similarly, sunscreens with SPF higher than 50 are required to label the product as “SPF 50+.”
But what should consumers consider when purchasing their next bottle of sunscreen?
- “Broad Spectrum” should be on the list. This label means the product protects against both UVA and UVB rays. (UVB rays cause sunburn; UVA rays penetrate deeper levels of the skin, causing premature aging.)
- SPF Rating is still important. 30 or higher is recommended by most dermatologists.
- Consider “water resistant” brands. FDA guidelines allow manufacturers to use the term “water resistant” on packaging, but the label must indicate if the sunscreen is effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while sweating or swimming. Choose options with the higher number if you plan to be doing either of those activities.
- Decide whether you want a lotion or a spray. Lotion and spray sunscreens offer similar protection from the sun, but sprays can be more convenient for squirming children. Apply sprays heavily to the body until the product is dripping, then allow it to dry for best sun protection.
Choosing the right sunscreen offers little protection if it isn’t used properly. It’s important to reapply sunscreen often—at least every hour or two during regular sun exposure and immediately after swimming or sweating. The average person should use one ounce of sunscreen—enough to fill a shot glass—to cover their entire body. People with darker skin should adhere to the same sunscreen recommendations as those with fairer skin.
Sun Protection Doesn’t End with Sunscreen
Wearing sunscreen is just the first step towards reducing your skin cancer risk. In order to minimize your risk of melanoma and other deadly skin cancers the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends:
- Seeking shade whenever possible, especially between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
- Protecting eyes from UVA and UVB rays with wrap-around sunglasses.
- Avoiding indoor tanning. (Indoor tanning causes 170,000 skin cancer cases annually.)
Staying out of the sun as much as possible is the best sun protection!