Which Sunscreen Is Right for Me?

July 2009

Trying to figure out which sunscreen to buy can be tough. There are so many types and SPF levels, it boggles the mind! Here are some tips on how to choose the right sunscreen for you.

Sunscreens are chemicals that help keep ultraviolet rays, or UV, from our skin. Both UVA and UVB rays can damage our skin and cause cancer. UVB rays cause the redness or sunburn we see after unprotected time in the sun. UVA rays are more likely to cause wrinkles and aging of the skin. UVA rays can also increase the effect of UVB rays on our risk for skin cancer.

Most sunscreens protect us from UVB rays but not all protect against UVA rays. A Sun Protection Factor (SPF), rating tells us how well each product will protect our skin from UVB rays.

The SPF system used at this time does not tell us how protected we are from UVA rays. Sunscreen may protect your skin from UVB rays but you may still be exposed to harmful UVA rays.

Currently the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing public comments made on a suggested four-star rating system to show UVA protection. Sunscreen products would then have a SPF and a star rating.

It is important to use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. These are called broad-spectrum sunscreens. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two blockers that are stable and protect well against UVA rays.

The other two UVA blockers most commonly used in the US are avobenzone and Mexoryl SX. However, these two chemical blockers can be unstable and break down easily in the sun. Stability of an ingredient predicts how long it can protect the skin once applied.

It is also important to test a new product on a small area of skin before use. Some consumers can be allergic to the different chemical ingredients.

Dermatologists recommend use of SPF 15 or higher every day even if you do not plan to be in the sun. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before you plan to be out in the sun. You should apply 1 oz, or about a shot glass full, of sunscreen every two hours. This same amount should be reapplied after swimming or sweating heavily.

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