Which Type of Sunscreen Should You Choose? - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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Published on June 02, 2014

Which Type of Sunscreen Should You Choose?

SPF 15? SPF 30? How about 45? If you're confused by the numbers and types of sunscreen, welcome to the club. Many of us are so confused by sunscreens that we don't even use them.

But we're here to help clear up any confusion. Sun exposure is a risk factor for skin cancer, so it's important to properly protect yourself next time you're out in the sun.

What is SPF?

To help you select products that best suit your needs, sunscreens are labeled with SPF numbers. SPF stands for "sun protection factor" and refers to the sunscreen's ability to protect against sunburn.

The actual SPF number refers to how much longer skin with sunscreen takes to burn, compared to unprotected skin.

How to Select a Sunscreen

A sunscreen protects from sunburn and minimizes suntan by reflecting UV rays. Selecting a good sunscreen is important in protecting the skin.

Consider the following:

  • A sunscreen with SPF of 20 to 30 offers substantial protection against sunburns, and usually prevents tanning.
  • A product that has "broad spectrum" on its label means the sunscreen filters out ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation exposure.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the selection of sunscreens with the new UVA "star" rating system on the label. In this system, one star means low protection; two is medium protection; three provides high protection; and four offers the highest UVA protection available in over-the-counter sunscreens.
  • Sunscreens are recommended for everyone over 6 months of age, regardless of skin or complexion type, because all skin types need protection from solar UV rays. (For babies younger than 6 months, check with your health care provider.) For babies over 6 months of age, apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of the body, but be very careful around the baby's eyes. If your baby develops a rash after you use sunscreen, please check with your doctor. Remember--a baby's best defense against sunburn is staying in the shade or avoiding the sun.
  • Lighter skin types are at the greatest risk of developing skin cancer; but all people are at some risk. Research has shown that UVA rays may contribute to premature aging and skin cancer.

How to Apply Sunscreen

  • Apply sunscreens to all exposed areas of skin, including those easily overlooked areas such as the rims of the ears, lips, back of the neck and feet. For these sensitive areas, the AAP suggests sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally and rub it in well. The recommended dose is one ounce per application (about the amount in a shot glass).
  • Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors - it needs time to absorb into the skin.
  • Remember - you can burn from rays that bounce back from water, snow, concrete and sand. Apply sunscreen any time you may be at risk for a sunburn.
  • Reapply every two hours, after being in the water, or after exercising or sweating. Incidental time in the sun could add up to a sunburn. Don't forget the time spent walking your dog, window shopping, performing outdoor chores or jogging on your lunch hour.

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Which Type of Sunscreen Should You Choose?