With the arrival of summertime and warm weather, many of us are spending more time outside and in the sun. Learn more about sunscreen and how it can protect your skin as you enjoy summer activities.
Take our quiz at the bottom to test your knowledge!
What are sunscreens?
Sunscreens help protect the skin from
and minimize suntan by absorbing or reflecting UV rays. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation damages the skin and can lead to sunburns and skin cancer. Sunscreen extends the time you can be outdoors before your skin starts to turn red, but you still need to be aware of your sun exposure. No sunscreen blocks UV radiation 100% and damage to your skin cells is still occurring.
What does the SPF mean?
The SPF, sun protection factor, on a sunscreen label is a measure of how well the sunscreen protects against Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns and can also contribute to skin cancer.
Higher SPF numbers mean greater protection from UVB rays. But no sunscreen can block all UVB rays. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays. A sunscreen with an SPF of 50 blocks about 98% of UVB rays.
How do I select a sunscreen?
Selecting a good sunscreen is important in protecting the skin. Sunscreen is available in lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks and sprays. Choose the one that works for you, but be sure it offers:
- Broad-spectrum protection. This protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- An SPF of 30 or higher.
- Water-resistance or is waterproof. This means the sunscreen provides protection while swimming or sweating for a certain amount of time — either 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the label.
How should I apply sunscreen?
Most people don't apply enough sunscreen or apply it properly, which limits how useful it is. The next time you lather up, follow these guidelines:
- Apply sunscreen to all areas of skin that will not be covered by clothing.
- Use at least 1 ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover exposed areas. An ounce should cover the whole body. But you might need to adjust the amount depending on your body size.
- Apply the sunscreen to dry skin about 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. This gives it time to be absorbed.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, or more often after swimming or sweating.
- Protect your lips by applying a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Should I use sunscreen on babies?
Sunscreens are recommended for everyone over 6 months of age. For babies younger than 6 months its best to avoid direct sunlight completely or use lightweight clothing that covers their skin and a wide-brimmed hat to protect their head and face. The American Academy of Pediatrics approves of the use of sunscreen only if adequate clothing and shade are not available, and only on small areas such as the face or backs of the hands.
Should I rely on sunscreen alone?
Using sunscreen when you are going out in the sun is important. But it is only one part of an overall plan of protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. Other important ways to protect your skin include:
- Finding shade or limiting your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and p.m., when UV rays are the strongest.
- Wearing a hat with a wide brim and tightly woven clothing that covers most of your skin, as well as sunglasses.
- Avoiding tanning beds and sunlamps.
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