Get a better understanding of the protection you need and what the labels on sunscreen bottles mean.
There’s been a real evolution in the way we recommend wearing sunscreen — it’s not just for the beach or pool. A lot of evidence cited in several studies shows daily use of sunscreen greatly reduces the risk of developing melanoma. With so many options to choose from, it doesn’t hurt to have a basic understanding of what all those letters and numbers on the bottle actually mean.
The American Academy of Dermatology, and myself professionally, recommends daily use of sunscreen. Many health and beauty products, such as moisturizer and aftershave, have a sun protection factor (SPF) rating that serves as adequate protection for all-day wear when working indoors. You have to read the labels and make sure you’re getting moisturizer with sunscreen in it.
During your daily life, it’s important to consider the sun exposure you’re experiencing while traveling in your car or if you’re seated by a window at work. When driving long distances, you should treat the tops of your hands. The hands get a lot of sun, and the tinting in the windshield offers only minimal protection. Primarily, windshields with tint only block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and not the more harmful, cancer-causing ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.
Federal Drug Administration (FDA) regulations concerning how high manufacturers can label SPF ratings on sunscreen packaging was changed in 2012. But it wasn’t until December 2014 that the smaller companies have had to comply with these new regulations, so there’s been a little confusion on the sunscreen aisle as it relates to labeling.
The new FDA regulation limits the maximum SPF value on sunscreen labels to 50+ because there is not sufficient data to support the claim that SPF values higher than 50 provide greater protection for users in terms of cancer prevention.
An SPF rating concerns the reddening of the skin. So, if an SPF rating is 15, it means it will take 15 times longer for sun exposure to redden the skin when it’s covered with that product. That rating only applies to UVB protection, not UVA.
Lotions that provide UVA protection are labeled “broad spectrum.” UVA protection decreases the wearer’s risk of developing melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers due to sun exposure. It’s important to remember, unless a lotion is labeled broad spectrum, it only offers SPF protection for UVB rays and not the more harmful UVA rays. Look for these five key ingredients in any broad spectrum sunscreen: zinc oxide, titanium oxide, avobenzone, ecamsule and oxybenzone.
If you use a sunscreen with an SPF of less than 15, you are not getting enough protection for your skin. These lower-rated lotions are used to enhance tanning and not designed to protect the skin.
Here are a few reminders before you head out to catch some rays:
- Cover all exposed skin, especially your cheeks, nose, shoulders and forearms, with sunscreen
- Fully reapply sunscreen every two hours and after getting out of the water or toweling off
- 1 ounce, roughly the amount in a full shot glass, should cover all exposed areas
- Allow 30 minutes to pass after applying sunscreen so it can properly soak into the skin prior to sun exposure
- Did you know: In the 1940s sunscreen was part of military research in the Army and Air Force. One early waterproof sunscreen proposed was a red veterinary petrolatum.
Chris G. Adigun, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist at Aesthetic Solutions in Chapel Hill, N.C. Dr. Adigun was Assistant Professor of Dermatology in the New York University Department of Dermatology. She has been featured on “Good Morning America”, “CBS News”, Univision and published in U.S. News and World Report, TeenVogue, InStyle, Self, Health and lectures extensively.