Protect your skin with sunscreen

Mother applying sunscreen on her daughter

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Tips on how to make the best selection and reduce sun exposure

As temperatures begin to soar, many families will take part in a variety of outdoor activities like swimming, boating and hiking. If you plan on spending more than 10 minutes in the sun, it is recommended that you apply sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

While making your summer plans, be sure to include a sunscreen that not only fits your lifestyle but also protects your skin from the damaging effects of the sun.

Choose the right one

With so many sunscreens on the market now, it can be overwhelming to know how to make the best selection. Without an expiration date, sunscreen can last no more than three years, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, that timeframe can be shorter if the sunscreen has been exposed to high temperatures.

“Look for a product containing broad-spectrum protection that blocks both types of UV radiation, UVA and UVB,” said Mark Gimbel, MD, a surgical oncologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert. “A good sunblock is one that gives 100 percent protection and includes an active ingredient such as titanium dioxide.”

Differentiating between the effectiveness of sun protection factor, also known as SPF, determines the amount of time the sunscreen has to prevent UVB from damaging the skin.

“I recommend a sunscreen with SPF 30 for the sun-exposed areas of the body, especially the neck, face and ears,” Gimbel said.

However, the higher the SPF doesn’t necessarily mean more protection.

“An SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of the harmful UVB radiation while an SPF 30 blocks 97 percent, Gimbel added. “The added benefit of SPF 30 to SPF 50 is only 1 percent.”

Sunscreens come in a variety of sprays and lotions that are water resistant, kid-friendly and formulated for dry or sensitive skin. Experts suggest using caution when applying sunscreen on children—especially infants, who should wear sunscreen after the age of 6 months.

“Spray sunscreen on your hands first before rubbing on children to avoid the eyes and mouth,” Gimbel said.

Know when to reapply

It is suggested that one ounce of sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow ingredients to fully bind and absorb into the skin, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Sunscreen significantly diminishes after an extended period of time outdoors especially after swimming or excessive sweating. “Reapply every few hours,” said Gimbel. “Even water resistant sunscreen needs to be reapplied because it usually gets wiped off with a towel.”

Don’t be fooled by hazy or overcast days.

“Approximately 40 percent of UV radiation can still make it through the clouds,” Gimbel added. “You still should wear sunscreen even on days when the sun isn’t out if you plan to be outside for any length of time.”

Be prepared

The sun is considered to be the strongest and most dangerous between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Chose an indoor activity or seek shade under a tree or umbrella.

There are other unexpected ways the sun can cause harm.

“Be sure to wear sunscreen during activities like water skiing to avoid reflective radiation from the sun,” said Gimbel.

Polarized sunglasses can protect the eyes and decrease chances for developing cataracts later in life. Brimmed hats, long sleeves and pants made from tightly woven materials and swim shirts are also suggested.

“Today there are plenty of lip balms and other cosmetics that contain SPF,” Gimel added.

Avoid long-term damage

The effects of sun exposure like wrinkling, freckling and brown spots are cumulative and not immediately noticeable. Sun damage occurs over an extended period of time, with the majority taking place during adolescence and early adulthood.

However, there are ways to make a positive impact on skin at any age.

Use sunscreen on a daily basis. Steer clear of indoor tanning which can increase chances for skin cancer. Seek other ways to obtain vitamin D through food sources.

“Even if someone starts using sunscreen regularly later in life, it still has beneficial effects,” Gimbel said.

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