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Certify Your Sunscreen Smarts

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In summer’s blazing rays, sunscreen is a must.

SunscreenJuly2016Long gone are the days of slathering the skin in baby oil and laying out on reflective foil blankets. Ray-rosy and sun-bronzed skin is so 1970s. A tan (or burn) damages your skin, speeds up aging and increases your risk for all types of skin cancer.

Sunscreen is not a magic bullet to eliminate the dangers of too much sun, but it’s a major player in protecting you from harmful rays.

Who needs sunscreen?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and 1 in 38 will be diagnosed with potentially fatal melanoma. Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of age, gender or race, so everyone — once past the age of six months — needs sunscreen.

When should I use sunscreen?
If you’ll be outside, you’ll need sunscreen. Year round and even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin. The sun’s reflection off of snow, sand and water increase the need for sunscreen and frequent reapplication.

What type of sunscreen should I use?
The AAD believes the best sunscreen is one you’ll actually use. Frequently. That sunscreen should have three important elements:
Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher

Water resistance
The type you purchase is a matter of personal choice, but creams are good for faces; sticks make it easier to get protection on sensitive skin under eyes and on lips; and sprays can be fast and easy, especially on squirmy children. It’s notable that the FDA is still studying the safety of sprays, with special concern for inhaling the chemicals in the lungs. But most physicians agree, preventing sunburn outweighs unproven claims of any sunscreen health hazards.

How much sunscreen do I need and when?
Dermatologists recommend a shot glass amount of sunscreen — at least one ounce — to cover the body. Most people under-apply, so be generous. Other guidelines to follow:
Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors or in the water.
Reapply sunscreen often, approximately every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

The higher the SPF, the higher the protection, right?
Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays. Higher SPFs block slightly more of the sun’s rays but there’s no scientific evidence showing an SPF higher than 50 works better or is worth the expense.

What is the best sunscreen?
The best sunscreen is shade. Especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Long-sleeve shirts, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses are also useful protection, even for young children. Finally, tanning beds are also unsafe, so if you just have to have your summer glow, see our Beauty story in this issue to help find a local spray tan spa.
Five Common Mistakes People Make Using Sunscreen

1. Using sunscreen only on sunny days: The sun can burn, even on hazy days.
2. Using old sunscreen: Expiration dates dictate effectiveness.
3. Using sunscreen only in the morning before going out for the day: You have to reapply. Often.
4. Using makeup as sunscreen: The SPF is frequently lower or nonexistent in makeup. And you have to reapply. Often.
5. Using sunscreen that is not water resistant: Even if it is, you have to reapply. Often.