How to Choose Sunscreen for Maximum Protection

Summer is nearly here and it has come to my attention that you are probably not using sunscreen, even when you plan to be outside in the sun for more than 4 hours. Not smart.

Bikini Sunbathing
One of the 7 Wonders of the World: Bikini Sunbathing

Here are some frightening sunscreen facts:

  • 31% of you are not using sunscreen, even if you are going to be outside for more than 4 hours
  • 27% of men wear sunscreen
  • 27% of parents with kids under 12 say they never or only sometimes put sunscreen on their kids
  • 14% of parents never put cream on their kids even if they will be outside for more than 4 hours.

I find most of those numbers unfortunate and disturbing, especially when kids are involved.

Exposure to the sun can cause age spots, sunburns, wrinkles, and contributes to skin cancer.

You and your kids should be wearing sunscreen on the face and all other exposed areas of the skin, each and every day of the summer.


Choosing The Right Stuff

When buying your sunscreen be sure to read the labels thoroughly including the fine print. Until now, manufacturers have only been promoting the almighty sun protection factor (SPF), but there is other information we should know about our sunscreen.

In fact, the FDA has recently proposed new rules to regulate sunscreen based on the current trend of misleading and uninformative labels on sunscreen products. These rules should be finalized by September and all sunscreen manufacturers will have 18 months to comply.

As an educated label reader, here is what you need to know about the labels on your sunscreen:

  • The truth about SPF.

    SPF describes how well a product protects the wearer from the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB rays are directly responsible for sunburns and contribute to the development of skin cancer.

    SPF 20, for example, simply means that your unprotected skin would burn 20 times faster if you weren’t wearing a thick layer of the sunscreen. It most definitely does not mean that you can sit in the sun 20 times longer without damaging your skin.

  • The truth about ultraviolet A (UVA).

    Most sunscreens on the market now don’t mention anything about UVA rays, which actually penetrate deeper than UVB rays, and also contribute directly to cancer and premature aging of the skin.

    Under the new rules, UVA protection will be rated on a simple 4 star scale. For now though you should look for cooperative sunscreen manufacturers who advertise their products as offering “broad spectrum” protection, and who list ingredients that are known to protect against UVA rays.

  • Key ingredients for UVA protection.

    Some ingredients are still under FDA review, but the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that one or more of the following should be included in a product that offers effective broad-spectrum protection:

    • avobenzone
    • oxybenzone
    • titanium dioxide
    • zinc oxide
    • ecamsule (aka Mexoryl SX)
    Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunblock SPF 45
    Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 45
    Nanoparticle Free!

    Again, look for at least one of those ingredients when determining your sunscreen’s claims at broad-spectrum protection.

    Side Effects of Nanoparticles

    There are some questions about the additional side effects of using products with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These ingredients are included in sunscreen as nanoparticles, which, if studies conclude that they penetrate the top layers of dead skin, could potentially cause additional free radical damage to healthy skin cells.

    Consumer Reports studies have found that there is no connection between the effectiveness of sunscreen products and the inclusion of those ingredients. Basically, if you can find a sunscreen with the other broad-spectrum ingredients, you would be better off choosing that one.

    On of the top top-scoring U.S. products, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 45, did not contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

  • Know your hogwash buzz words.

    There are two terms you should look out for, which offer absolutely no benefit over any other product:

    • Waterproof – no sunscreens are waterproof. They all wash, rub, or sweat off. This is a marketing gimmick.
    • Sunblock – no sunscreens block the sun. They all filter (or screen) the sun’s harmful rays, but they “block” nothing.

    These two terms will both be banned by the FDA’s new rules. Instead, products that pass certain tests could be labeled as resistant or very resistant to sweat and water.

  • “Baby” does not mean your baby should use it.

    Ask any doctor if a certain sunscreen is safe for a baby under 6 months old, and he or she will likely tell you to keep your baby entirely out of the sun, or completely shielded.

    Consider the following items as proper sunscreen for your baby:

    • Hats
    • Stroller Canopies
    • Clothing
    • Thick Umbrellas
    • Tarps
    • Tree Shade

    Get the picture?

    If exposing your baby to sun is completely unavoidable, you are encouraged to use only a small amount of broad-spectrum sunscreen with the highest SPF you can find.

    Keep that baby covered!

In Conclusion

In order of importance, these are the top 4 ways to protect you and your family from sun related skin damage:

  1. Limit time in the sun and direct exposure to the sun’s harmful rays.
  2. Cover your head and skin with hats, protective clothing, sunglasses, and sleeves.
  3. Seek shade whenever possible.
  4. Wear a high SPF (30-50) sunscreen with broad-spectrum, very water-resistant protection.

Go ahead and have fun in the sun this summer, but do it right.

Protect you and your family’s skin again premature aging, discoloration, wrinkles, and skin cancer by all means possible.

Use this advice from Consumer Reports to choose and use your sunscreen wisely:

  • Choosing a sunscreen labeled “very water resistant” with an SPF of at least 30, which is plenty for most people. As part of the new FDA labeling rules, SPF numbers will be stopped at 50, while products offering more protection could be labeled 50+.
  • Some newer Consumer Reports highly rated sunscreens include:

    Highly rated products from Consumer Report’s 2007 tests include:

  • Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow for absorption. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating heavily.
  • Only about half the labels warned about staining, so watch your clothes and check your labels for warnings.
  • If your sunscreen has no expiration date, mark the bottle yourself with a permanent marker on the date of purchase. Do not use sunscreen that is greater than two years old because it could have lost its potency.
  • Don’t buy based on brand alone. Past tests by Consumer Reports have shown that different formulas or SPFs within the same brand may not offer the same protection.

The ultimate take-away: go buy good sunscreen and wear it every day.

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2 Responses to “How to Choose Sunscreen for Maximum Protection”

  1. Broad or Full Spectrum Protection…sound familiar. Seems to me that there should be a class action suit against sunscreen companies for making us believe for all these years that we were protected. I for one wouldn’t have spent near the time I have in the sun if I knew of the misleading labeling.

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