Most people know that sunscreen is a mighty weapon against skin ailments such as cancer, but many do not understand all the particulars of when to wear it or what SPF is needed for their skin type.
The sun can be damaging but when you know how to protect your skin you can enjoy the sun in a healthy way. The skin care industry is always evolving in different ways but the science that drives it is a constant growing body of knowledge.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a 2010 survey, “70% of adults said that they usually or always practice at least one of the three sun-protective behaviors (use sunscreen, wear sun-protective clothing, or seek shade)”1
1. All sunscreens are not created equal. Some products on the market are toxic. The industry as a whole is moving away from such ingredients as oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. The former may enter the bloodstream and/or cause allergic reactions. The later may speed developement of lesions and tumors.
2. Darker skin tones need protection as much as lighter tones. Although different SPF is required for darker skin types, protection shouldn’t be avoided. According to a survey listed on skincancer.org “65% of African American participants”…”said they never used sunscreen”. And “People who have dark skin are more susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM)”.
3. You should look for “broad spectrum” on the label. Dermatologists strongly suggest broad spectrum to their patients due to the ability to protect their skin against UVA and UVB rays. This label now requires additional testing from the FDA.
4. Sunscreen is not water proof or sweat proof. Although many claim water resistance, it is always a good rule of thumb to reapply after 2 hrs. or sooner if moisture is a factor.
5. Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight all together. Skin changes throughout our lives, which is why you see sunscreen for children. The very youngest have the most sensitive and vulnerable skin. For the littlest ones it is best to use sun protective clothing and umbrellas when outdoors.
6. The FDA can only require labeling for ineffective SPF 2-4. Distribution of such products can not be stopped but a warning must be on the label. Many consumers sadly do not read the label on products and this can lead to misleading and dangerous purchases. As these lower SPF products are more akin to body lotion than sunscreen.
7. SPF numbers are not set in stone. In theory SPF numbers are supposed to represent the amount of time that you are able to enjoy the sun and be protected. I.E. SPF 15 should last 150 minutes. Time isn’t the only thing that affects your sunscreen’s ability to protect you. For instance, water, sweat & time of day/intensity of sun rays, can all affect your protective barrier.
8. Animal testing is not necessary for sunscreen products. Skin care and cosmetics are included in this point. More often than not newer companies do not test because of this. According to the New Drug Application (NDA) Process, when a company produces a product that is considered an OTC drug, and the product contains a new ingredient, the company is required to conduct animal testing to receive approval from the FDA. As many sunscreens and cosmetics do not use new ingredients that are considered an OTC drug, they do not require this testing.
9. An SPF 30 or higher is best. A SPF 30 can block out 97% of UV rays whereas an SPF 15 can only block about 93%.
10. Proper use of sunscreen and other protective measures is as important as the products used. Remember to cover all exposed skin with sunscreen and cover other areas with protective wear like a hat for your scalp. Reapplying when needed as well can increase your protective effectiveness.
1. National Cancer Institute. Cancer Trends Progress Report: UV Exposure and Sun Protective Practices. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Last Updated: Jan 14th, 2017.