Sunscreen 101

When did buying sunscreen come to require an advanced degree? At least, that's what occured to me when I stopped at the drugstore to buy a bottle of sunscreen before going to the pool.

Overwhelmed by the choices, I left emptyhanded and borrowed some from a friend. Later, I hopped online and realized that my confusion was justified. We all know that sun protection is a necessity (and if you don't, check out the troubling statistics on skin cancer), so I decided it was worth the effort to wade through the hype because I recently read about a class action lawsuit against major sunscreen companies for false or misleading claims.

Here are a few things I picked up, but it's probably worthwhile to check out more comprehensive information posted at the Centers for Disease Control and the Skin Cancer Foundation websites:

SPF 15 or Higher:

Experts recommend buying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. An SPF of 30 or higher is a sunblock.

So, is a high SPF that much better? Theoretically, yes. The SPF number refers to the amount of time we can spend in the sun before burning. If you start to burn after 20 minutes, an SPF of 15 means that technically you should be able to safely stay in the sun for 15 times longer. It also reduces the percentage of UVB rays that reach the skin. Still, experts advise people not to push it.

Reapply Every Two Hours:

The Skin Cancer Foundation says that all sunscreens need to be reapplied after two hours to be effective. I gather that it's better to reapply sunscreen often, rather than fool yourself into believing that a higher SPF offers extra protection.

Broad-Spectrum Protection:

Buy sun broad-spectrum protection. UVA and UVB are two types of ultraviolet radiation; both damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. UVA rays seem to cause wrinkles, and other types of photoaging, while UVB rays cause sunburn. UVA rays exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, and increasingly are being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own.

Buy Water-Resistant:

Even if you're not exercising or sweating, it holds up better outside. And it's less likely to drip into your eyes.

Other Chemicals:

I encountered a few other new terms. According to ABC News, Helioplex is a breakthrough product because it blocks both UVA and UVB rays, and it blocks UVA rays for twice as long as other products because it doesn't breakdown in the sun. Mexoryl SX, long available in Europe, got FDA-approval last year. It's an organic filter that's meant to protect against short UVA rays and doesn't degrade quickly in the sun.

Lastly:

If you can't stay out of the sun, wear a hat. No sunscreen can offer total protection. Besides, isn't it better than wrinkles?

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