How to choose the best sunscreen
May 21, 2012
I spent every summer day of my childhood splashing in the ocean. As a result, I also spent many evenings in pain. Bad, blistered sunburns were just as much a part of my summers as boogie boards and salt water taffy.
Then I became a teenager. I didn’t consider a day of laying out a success unless my freckles “came out.” I baked in the sun for hours in hopes of turning my pale skin into bronze.
I now see how foolish I was. As a child, I should have reapplied sunscreen more often, and as a teen, I should have opted for sunblock over tanning oil. Now, not only do I have wrinkles, but I’ve also had several suspicious moles removed from my body. Skin cancer is deadly but preventable. I’m taking my health seriously now and lathering on the SPF every day.
With all the sunscreen choices out there, it’s tricky to know which one to select to best protect our bodies. Here’s what I found out.
Experts say to choose a sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays:
- UVA rays are the most common type of sunlight. These rays can enter beyond the first layer of skin and damage tissue.
- UVB rays are mostly absorbed by the ozone layer but some can reach your skin. They don’t penetrate as deeply as UVA rays, but they can still do harm.
Sunscreens labeled as “broad spectrum” or “multi-spectrum” shield you from both UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology says to look for the following ingredients on labels to determine if the sunscreen offers full protection:
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Octyl methoxycinnamate
- Octyl salicylate
Sunscreen in any form works well. Choose a spray, lotion, cream, or stick based on your preference.
Get SPF savvy
The sun protection factor (SPF) of a sunscreen measures how well the sunscreen deflects UVB rays (there’s no way to measure UVA protection yet). SPF tells how much longer it takes skin to burn when it’s treated with sunscreen compared to skin that hasn’t been treated with sunscreen. For example, if you wear sunscreen with SPF 15, it would take your skin 15 times longer to burn than if you went in the sun without sunscreen.
Note that dermatologists say that you don’t have to use the highest SPF to get the best protection. Just choose a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and reapply regularly.
Avoid the burn
Picking a quality sunscreen is only the first step. These tips can also keep you from getting burned:
- Be generous with sunscreen. You should use about one ounce of sunscreen to properly cover your body. It works best when it’s applied thickly. Usesunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips and ears.
- Put it on before you head out. The sun can harm your skin in as few as 15 minutes. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
- Seek shade during midday. Avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is when the sun is at its highest and UV rays are at their peak.
- Pay attention to the UV index.The UV index measures the amount of UV light reaching the ground on a particular day. The UV index ranges from one to 11. The higher the UV index, the stronger the sun’s rays. Be extra careful outside when the UV index is high.
- Don’t neglect your eyes. Wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays. Invest in a pair with wraparound lenses to protect the sides of your eyes from the sun. This will also help you avoid crow’s feet.