Tips for choosing and applying sunscreen

BY Nora Byrne

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage your skin and can even lead to skin cancer. That’s why it’s so important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays with a good, quality sunscreen. But with so many options to choose from, how can you be sure you’ve picked the right one?

Before you choose a sunscreen, review the label to see if it:

1. Offers broad-spectrum protection. This means that it protects you from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays penetrate the deeper layers of your skin, prematurely aging your skin and leading to wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays damage the upper layers of your skin, causing redness and sunburn. And both UVA and UVB rays can cause cancer.

2. Provides a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. SPF refers to how well a sunscreen can protect you from UVB rays specifically. In other words, it indicates how well it can keep your skin from burning. No sunscreen can block all UVB rays, but those with SPF 30 can block 97 percent of UVB rays. An SPF above 30 can block slightly more, but it’s really only an incremental improvement.

3. Is water resistant. No sunscreen is waterproof. Water and sweat will wash it off eventually. That’s why you have to reapply it periodically.
But sunscreens can resist water for a certain amount of time. If the label says “water resistant,” that means it’s effective for about 40 minutes in the water; “very water resistant” means it’s effective for about 80 minutes in the water.

4. Contains the type of active ingredients you prefer. Some ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, deflect the sun’s rays. Those products that contain these active ingredients are known as physical sunscreens. Other ingredients, such as oxybenzone, absorb the sun’s rays and are known as chemical sunscreens. Some products contain a mix of both types of active ingredients.

Physical and chemical sunscreens can be equally effective, provided they meet the other criteria mentioned above and are applied properly. But they differ in other ways. Physical sunscreens are hypoallergenic, so they may be better for those with sensitive skin. But they also don’t absorb into the skin as well, so they tend to be more visible. Chemical sunscreens absorb better, so they’re less conspicuous. But some research suggests that the chemical oxybenzone can be harmful to coral reefs. So if you live in or are visiting an area with coral reefs, you may want to choose a physical sunscreen instead.

Of course, finding a good sunscreen is only half the battle. It’s equally important to apply it properly. So here are a few tips to help you do
just that.

• How much? A good rule of thumb is to use one ounce of sunscreen. That’s roughly the amount needed to fill a shot glass.

• How often? Apply 15 minutes before you’re going to be in the sun. After that, reapply at least every two hours. You may need to reapply more often if you’re going to be in the water or sweating a lot—for instance, every 40 or 80 minutes, depending on if your sunscreen is “water resistant” or “very water resistant.”

• Where? Apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, including your lips. You may want to buy a separate lip balm that contains SPF.

The right sunscreen applied properly can help you protect your skin. And that can help you stay safe and enjoy your summer to the fullest.