Reading a sunscreen label can seem like staring at alphabet soup–SPF, UVA, UVB– but what does it all mean and what actually matters? SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is a measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from ultraviolet B rays, which cause sunburns and the most common skin cancers. Ultraviolet A rays, which have long been known to cause photo-aging, also contribute to and may even trigger the development of skin cancer. Sunburn during childhood is a major risk factor for melanoma, so it is important for kids to develop good habits at a young age.
To prevent sun damage, look for a product that is labeled “broad spectrum,” which means that it blocks UVA and UVB rays. The SPF rating should be between SPF 30-50 (higher than 50 is not better.) Sunscreens deflect the UV rays with ingredients such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide and usually are thicker and slightly more difficult to apply, but last slightly longer.
Correct application and re-application is what truly protects the skin. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and then reapplied every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating (even if it’s labeled “water resistant”). Also make sure you don’t skimp on the amount of lotion. For a young adult, it should take about 2 tablespoons to sufficiently cover sun exposed skin.
Also practice sun safety by avoiding direct exposure during 10am to 4pm and stay in the shade as much as possible. Have a great summer!
Dr. Jackie Phillips