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Don't Forget the Sunscreen
Sunscreen can protect you from a host of problems, ranging from wrinkles to deadly melanoma. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) urges everyone to put on sunscreen whenever they are outside. And, according to the academy, make sure you use the right kind of sunscreen and apply it correctly.
Choosing a Sunscreen
There are two kinds of ultraviolet, or UV, rays. UVB rays cause sunburn, which, in addition to being painful and ugly, has been linked to the development of melanoma. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, where they can cause all kinds of problems. For example, they can harm the immune system, which lessens your protection against cancer, and they can accelerate signs of aging, such as wrinkles and age spots. And you don’t even have to be outside to feel the effects of UVA rays, because they can pass through window glass.
For maximum protection, the AAD recommends that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The best choice is a waterproof product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. At its most basic, the SPF refers to the amount of time a person could stay in the sun without burning. For example, if you would burn in 15 minutes without sunscreen, sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would allow you to stay outside without burning for 225 minutes, or almost four hours.
However, SPF only measures protection against UVB rays, the ones that cause sunburn. It does not measure protection against UVA rays. And even with UVB rays, the protection is largely theoretical. Sunscreen can some off because of water, sweat, contact with clothes, or any number of other things.
The ADA says the type of sunscreen you use--lotion, gel, spray, etc.—is largely a matter of personal preference. The important thing is that it protect against both UVA and UVB rays. The ADA says you should look at the label; sunscreens with full protection have specific ingredients, including:
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Octyl methoxycinnamate
- Octyl salicylate
- Titanium dioxide
- Zinc oxide
Applying a Sunscreen
Even the best sunscreen is no good unless you apply it properly, and most people don’t. You should apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you go out into the sun; 30 minutes before is even better. And don’t be stingy--slather it on. According to the AAD, most people use only about half the amount of sunscreen they should. You need about a shotglass full of sunscreen to protect your body.
Then reapply regularly. Even if your SPF suggests you are protected for hours, don’t take the chance. The AAD says to reapply at least every two hours, or after you get wet or sweat heavily. You even have to reapply waterproof sunscreen regularly, after about 40 minutes in the water or after you towel off.
Many moisturizers and makeups have sunscreen, but those also have to be reapplied regularly. And use a lip balm with sun protectant, or you will end up with sunburned lips.
Most people remember their sunscreen when they are at the beach on a sunny day. However, you also need sunscreen when it is cloudy, or when you are simply outside shopping or working in the yard. In fact, the AAD suggests that, because UVA rays can come through glass, you should put sunscreen on the exposed parts of your body even if you don’t leave the house.
Other Points to Remember
The sun is strongest in the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You are most likely to burn at this time so, as much as possible, you should stay in the shade or in the house.
The sun reflects off sand, water, snow and other light surfaces, so be especially careful at the beach and on the ski slopes.
Don’t use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months, and use sunscreen products specially formulated for babies older than that and for children.
If you get a mild sunburn, you can apply cool cloths and over-the-counter sunburn relief; pain relievers also can help. If your sunburn is severe, or if you feel ill after being in the sun, see your doctor.
You don’t have to toss last year’s bottle of sunscreen; the AAD says sunscreen is good for up to three years. However, the AAD says, you should use up a bottle of sunscreen long before that, if you are using it correctly.