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Use Sunscreen Properly to Stay Safe
You probably know that too much exposure to the sun can damage your skin, causing problems ranging from wrinkles to skin cancer. And you might also know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States – and that it is usually preventable. Sunscreen is your defense against sun damage, up to and including cancer. But it can be confusing to decide what kind of sunscreen to use and how to use it.
The Skin Cancer Foundation says that everyone over the age of 6 months should wear sunscreen most of the time; sunscreen is not safe for babies under 6 months, so they should stay out of the sun as much as possible. For most daily living, a moisturizer or other cream with an SPF of 15 should do the trick.
However, if you are going to be outside in the sun for an extended period of time, you need stronger protection, applied correctly.
Look for a sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection, which is protection against both kinds of harmful ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. Starting in December 2012, new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations say that most sunscreens can label themselves “broad spectrum” only if they have an SPF of at least 15 and have met FDA testing standards for protecting against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens with an SPF below 15 must say on the label that they do not provide protection against sun damage, including cancer.
SPF means “sun protection factor,” and basically it is a measure of how long you can be out in the sun without being burned by UVB rays, the rays that cause sunburn. If, for example, you could be out for 15 minutes before your skin started to turn red, a sunscreen with SPF 15 theoretically will protect you from sunburn for 15 times that long, or about three hours and 45 minutes. However, in actual use there are a number of things – such as water, sweat, changing sun exposure, etc. – that could make that protection last significantly less time.
The Skin Cancer Foundation says that using a broad-spectrum SPF 15 sunscreen is sufficient if you are not going to be outside for long. However, you need more protection if you are going to be outside for an extended period, especially if you are going to be in bright sun. Depending on your exposure and your skin type, choose an SPF of 30 or even higher.
For maximum protection, you should apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before you hit the beach or the golf course. This allows the sunscreen to soak into your skin.
Apply sunscreen liberally; many people use far too little. You should use at least an ounce – the amount that would fill a shot glass. Apply it to all exposed skin. Don’t forget spots like the tops of your ears or the insteps of your feet.
Finally, reapply every two hours or so, using the same 1 ounce. You might need to reapply more often if you are sweating heavily or are swimming. And always put on more sunscreen after you towel off.