Sunscreen is an important weapon in your arsenal against skin cancer and aging. There is a
large selection available, but comparing one sunscreen to another can sometimes be difficult.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends use of a broad spectrum sunscreen that
protects against both UVA and UVB rays and has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) or 30 or higher.
UVB rays cause sunburn, but UVA rays cause age-associated sun damage, including wrinkles
and age spots, and cancer. The World Health Organization and the United States Department of
Health and Human Services have declared UV radiation as a known carcinogen. This includes UV
radiation from sun, tanning beds, and sun lamps. In addition, UVA radiation may be responsible
for as much as 90% of the skin changes associated with aging.
Ingredients in sunscreen that provide broad-spectrum protection include compounds known as
benzophenones, such as oxybenzone; cinnamates, including cinoxate; titanium dioxide, zinc
oxide, avobenzone, and ecamsule. Ecamsule is newly approved by the US Food and Drug
Administration, which regulates sunscreens. Other ingredients include salicylates and
sulisobenzone. Your sunscreen should contain ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone,
sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide, in order to provide the best protection against
UVA rays. Although the SPF tells you how effective a sunscreen is in preventing sunburn, it
doesn’t tell you about the efficacy of UVA protection, so it is important to look at the
ingredients when making your selection. In terms of UVB protection, an SPF of 15 filters out
93% of UVB rays and allows you to spend 15 times as long in the sun without burning. However,
doubling the SPF doesn’t mean you have doubled your protection. An SPF of 30 filters out 97%
of UVB rays, which is a small increase over sunscreen with an SPF of 15. When you are
considering sunscreens, remember to avoid sunscreens with ingredients that are absorbed into
the skin, including para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and benzephenones if you have sensitive
skin or if you are buying sunscreen for children. Sunscreens designed for children are not
absorbed into the skin. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide form a physical barrier to the sun’s
harmful rays. Avoidance of alcohol preservatives, and fragrances can also help prevent allergies
and irritated skin.
Although it is important to choose a good sunscreen, it’s equally important to apply it correctly
It should be applied 15 minutes to 30 minutes before going out in the sun. It’s important to
apply an adequate amount of sunscreen, typically about 2 tablespoons or 1 ounce to cover the
entire body. Many people fail to apply an adequate amount and it can cut sun protection by 75
to 90%. Easily missed spots include the tips of the ears, the feet, and any bald spots. When
choosing a sunscreen, select one that is moisture resistant, but even with sunscreens that are
labeled “long-lasting,” you should reapply your sunscreen at least every two hours. Don’t just
apply sunscreen on sunny days – 80% of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation penetrates clouds on
overcast days. Use a lip balm with sunscreen to protect your lips.
Don’t forget, the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 2 pm. Use of protective clothing,
including wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, long pants, and long sleeve shirts.