Safe in the Sun: The Best Kinds of Sunscreen to Protect Your Skin

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Mothers, protect your children with sunscreen! Start this healthy habit early in life. Everyone should wear sunscreen; sunscreen is safe. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there are no scientific papers that have determined sunscreen to be hazardous to humans. Accordingly, research shows wearing sunscreen prevents sunburn and skin cancer. This is important, because one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime. In fact, melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, has doubled in frequency since 1982.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the ingredients used in sunscreen and has approved its use for those six months of age and older. Some sunscreens are better than others, so here are three facts you should look for in a sunscreen.

  • Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen
  • Choose SPF 30 or higher, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays
  • Choose water resistant up to 40 minutes or 80 minutes

Broad spectrum means that it protects the skin from ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Ultraviolet A is radiation that can penetrate through the clouds and though windows. UVA is the dominant radiation used in tanning beds. The high-pressure sunlamps in tanning salons emit doses of UVA up to 12 times that of the sun. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, this may be why those who tan in tanning salons are 2.5 times more likely to develop skin cancer. Ultraviolet B rays are strongest on sunny days and can burn and damage your skin year-round, causing skin cancer. Both UVA and UVB change the skin’s DNA and are harmful.

SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” It is a rather confusing scale because it measures “time” of protection not “degree” of protection. No sunscreen blocks 100 percent of the sun’s rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying enough sunscreen to generously coat exposed areas of the body. Most people apply only 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount needed. Consider applying one ounce, enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass, depending on your body size, and apply generously.

Sunscreens are not waterproof or sweat proof, and therefore it is important to buy sunscreens that are water resistant. Minimally, sunscreen should be applied every two hours and immediately after swimming or heavy sweating. Creams are best for dry skin and gels are better for hairy areas. Sticks are good for around the eyes and don’t forget the lips. Apply lip balm with SPF of 30 or higher every two hours.

Other recommendations by the American Academy of Dermatology are to wear protective clothing, wide brim hats and to seek shade when the sun is the strongest. They also recommend on your birthday to check your birthday suit. As always, if you have any concerns about your skin, I encourage you to see your primary care provider.


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Dr. Della Hughes-Carter

Dr. Della Hughes-Carter is a board certified nurse practitioner with a primary care practice, and a faculty member of the College of Nursing at Michigan State University. You can contact Della by email at della.hughes@hc.msu.edu.

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