Which sunscreen should you choose? SPF 15 or 50? Chemical sunscreen, physical sunscreen, stays on while sweating or is safe for babies? Which works, which doesn’t and what’s the real truth on reapplying.
Ten years ago I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, the most minor of the three types of skin cancer. However, I have never had a bad sunburn and in fact I rarely remember being burned at all. Yet I lifeguarded, played in all day softball tournaments, ran cross-country and generally did everything I could outdoors in the sun and warm weather. But, I don’t have many memories of using sunscreen – after all, back then sunscreen was primarily used to prevent burns. As an adult, I now know better. I now know that you don’t have to burn to get skin cancer and that years of sun exposure can add up to damaged skin.
So, how can you protect your skin this summer and year round? The Skin Cancer Foundation, UC San Francisco and CDC have several tips:
- Stay in the shade, especially when the sun is hottest, between the hours of 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
- Avoid tanning beds and UV tanning booths
- Cover up with clothing, you can also buy “sun protective clothing;” just google this phrase and stores will come up
- Wear a broad brimmed hat, 80% of skin cancers occur on the head and neck
- Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays, preferably the kind with wrap-around lenses which block UV rays from coming in the sides;
- Apply about 2 Tbsp. of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes prior to going outside
- Choose a water and sweat resistant sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 (which tells you the length of protection so if you normally burn in 10 minutes, with a SPF 15 you will have 10 x 15 = 250 minutes of extra protection).
- Reapply sunscreen after 1-2 hours of swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel.
- Chose a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Both are physical sunscreens which provide broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection.
- Throw out your sunscreen after 1-2 years as it may lose it’s potency
- Use lip balm with a SPF of at least 15
- Avoid products that contain both bug repellent and sunscreen since sunscreens generally need to be reapplied more often
- Apply sunscreen prior to bug repellent and know that bug repellents that contain DEET can decrease SPF by 1/3 and the sunscreen may increase the absorption of DEET
For a list of safe sunscreens recommended by the Environmental Working Group, click here.
And finally, if you are considering window tint for your car, consider one that also blocks UV rays.