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Sunscreen - How to choose the best protection for your family

Choosing sunscreen can be very confusing to consumers. Here are the basics that you need to know about protecting your family against skin damage from the sun.

Avoid the sun during peak hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wear sun protective clothing including a wide brimmed hat when possible. Remember that UV light can pass through clouds, so use sunscreen even when it's cloudy. Also, water, snow, sand and concrete reflect light and increase the risk of sunburn so reapply sunscreen more often in these scenarios.

Use sunscreen. Look for water-resistant, broad-spectrum coverage with an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously 15 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply every two hours, or more often if you're swimming or sweating. Most people only apply 25-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. Apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin. Most adults need about 1 ounce (think shot glass) to fully cover their body.

1. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen

A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.

While UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots, UVB rays can burn your skin. Skin damage from UV light can cause free radicles, leading to skin cancer.

2. Choosing an SPF

SPF (sun protection factor) is a measure of how well sunscreen protects against UVB rays only. Unfortunately, UVA is not included. Manufacturers calculate SPF based on how long it takes to sunburn skin treated with the sunscreen as compared to skin with no sunscreen. If your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, applying an SPF 15 sunscreen would allow you to stay in the sun without burning for approximately 150 minutes (a factor of 15 times longer)

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. Remember that it takes approximately 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen and protect you. Use 1 oz every 2 hours and reapply immediately after sweating or swimming (towel off first).

3. Should I choose I water-resistant sunscreen?

Yes!! The term 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.

4. What do I need to know about sunscreen ingredients?

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays, acting like a sponge.

They contain one or more of the following active ingredients, oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate. These sunscreens tend to be easier to rub into your skin without leaving a white residue. However, the FDA is still investigating the safety of these products. These chemicals have been implicated as endocrine disruptors.

Physical sunscreens (also known as mineral sunscreens) act like a shield. They sit on the surface of your skin and deflect the sun’s rays. The active ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, or both. Look for zinc oxide alone, or in combination with titanium dioxide or encapsulated octinoxate.

Choose a sunscreen with 20 percent or more zinc oxide: Any sunscreens with 20 percent or more zinc oxide will give you complete UVA and UVB protection. The higher the zinc oxide level, the higher the SPF. A sunscreen with 20 percent zinc provides SPF 32.

Avoid any sunscreens that are less than 15 percent zinc oxide. Avoid any sunscreens that are titanium dioxide only. If you choose a combination product choose a sunscreen with

15 to 20 percent zinc oxide + at least 7.5 percent titanium dioxide or encapsulated octinoxate. This will provide SPF 30 and sufficient UVA protection.

So in summary....

Choose a SPF 30 sunscreen (use zinc oxide/titanium dioxide based sunscreen when possible). Apply 1 oz of sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before sun exposure to all skin surfaces that will be exposed to the sun (don't forget your neck, your ears, the top of your head, and tops of your feet). Apply a lip balm or lipstick with an SPF of least 30 to your lips. Reapply at a minimum of every 2 hours (or immediately after sweating or swimming).

Credits: American Academy of Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, and Michelle Villett (The Skin Care Edit)

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