Although it may feel like summer is winding down, sunscreen is something we should be using year-round. When it comes to sunscreen, the best sunscreen is one that you'll use generously and according to label directions. Know what to look for on sunscreen labels and how to maximize your sun protection.
Confused about the best sunscreen to use? Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, offers his guidance.
What are the best ways to protect yourself from the sun?
Focus on the big picture when it comes to sun safety. For example:
- Avoid the sun during peak hours. Generally, this is 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Water, snow, sand and concrete reflect light and increase the risk of sunburn.
- Wear sun protective clothing. This includes pants, shirts with long sleeves, sunglasses and hats.
- Use sunscreen. Look for water-resistant, broad-spectrum coverage with an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours or more if you're swimming or sweating.
What does a broad-spectrum sunscreen do?
There are two types of UV light that can harm your skin: UVA and UVB. A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects you from both.
UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays can burn your skin. Too much exposure to UVA or UVB rays can cause skin cancer. The best sunscreen offers protection from UV light.
What SPF do you need?
SPF stands for sun protection factor, a measure of how well sunscreen protects against UVB rays (UVA protection isn't rated). Manufacturers calculate SPF based on how long it takes to sunburn skin treated with the sunscreen as compared to skin with no sunscreen.
Dr. Dawn Davis, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist, says preventing that painful redness is one of the biggest factors in preventing skin cancer.
Experts recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Sunscreens with SPFs greater than 50 provide only a small increase in UV protection. High-number SPFs last the same amount of time as low-number SPFs.
Sunscreen is often not applied thoroughly or thickly enough, and it can be washed off during swimming or sweating. As a result, sunscreen might be less effective than the SPF number suggests.
So how do sunscreen brands calculate an SPF?
If you stand outside in a particular location and you're testing the sunscreen and it takes you 10 minutes to develop redness to the skin without the product on, but then you apply the product on a different area of skin and it takes 50 minutes for the skin to show redness, then that is an SPF factor of 50 over 10, which equals 5.
Davis recommends a minimum of SPF 30, which theoretically means you could stay protected from UV rays 30 times longer than without sunscreen.
What does water-resistant sunscreen do?
Water resistant means that the SPF is maintained for up to 40 minutes in water. Very water resistant means the SPF is maintained for 80 minutes in water.
What do I need to know about sunscreen ingredients?
Sunscreens contain filters that reflect or absorb UV rays. There are two main types of filters:
- Organic filters that absorb UV radiation and convert it to a small amount of heat. Examples include cinnamates, salicylates and benzophenones.
- Inorganic filters that reflect and scatter UV radiation. Examples include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Inorganic sunscreens are typically less irritating to skin.
Sunscreens might also contain or be combined with:
- Insect repellent: Experts recommend using separate sunscreen and insect repellant products. Sunscreen needs to be applied generously and often, while insect repellant should be used sparingly and less frequently.
- Cosmetics: Some moisturizers, makeup and after-shaves contain sunscreen. While convenient, these products need to be regularly reapplied to continue providing protection.
Should I use a spray sunscreen or a lotion?
Consider the pros and cons for different applications.
- Creams: If you have dry skin, you might prefer a cream, especially for your face.
- Lotions: Lotions are often preferred for application on large areas. Lotions tend to be thinner and less greasy than creams.
- Gel: Gels work best in hairy areas, such as the scalp or chest.
- Stick: Sticks are useful when applying sunscreen around the eyes.
- Spray: Sprays are easy to apply on children. Because it's difficult to know how well you're applying it, spray a generous and even coating. To prevent inhalation of the product, don't spray near the face or mouth. Check the direction of the wind before spraying.
What else do I need to know about sunscreen?
When you use sunscreen:
- Apply generous amounts to dry skin 15 minutes before you go outdoors.
- Apply on all skin surfaces that will be exposed to the sun, such as your neck, the tops of your feet, your ears and the top of your head. Apply a lip balm or lipstick with an SPF of at least 30 to your lips.
- Remember UV light can pass through clouds, so apply even when it's cloudy.
- Check the sunscreen's expiration date.
- Avoid using sunscreen on children younger than 6 months. Instead, try to limit sun exposure.
Use sunscreen year-round, but don't let any product lull you into a false sense of security about sun exposure. A combination of shade, clothing, sunscreen and common sense is your best bet.
- Wednesdays and Saturdays: Power of Produce, free produce for children age 3-12 at the Hutchinson Farmers Market, Depot Marketplace, 25 Adams St. S.E. Hours are 2:30-5:30 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m.-noon Saturday. The market continues through October.
- Tuesdays, Aug. 27, and Sept. 10, 24: $2 Tuesdays offers reduced admission 4-7 p.m. at the Wheel & Cog Children's Museum of Hutchinson, Hutchinson Mall, 1060 State Highway 15 S.
- Wednesdays through September: Hutchinson Community Running Group meets 7 p.m. at Library Square. Connect on Facebook for run updates.
- BikeHutch: Connect with the Hutchinson Biking Group on Facebook for local rides and trail conditions.
- Discover the Crow River: Experience the river via paddle sports rentals of canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards through Labor Day (Sept. 2) at Masonic/West River Park.
- Saturday, Sept. 14: Luce Line Lace-Up. Pick your distance: 1 mile, 5K, 10K or half marathon. Registration is open at lucelinelaceup.com.