What Should You Look for in Your Sunscreen?
Sunscreen isn’t just for summer anymore. It also isn’t just for sunny days—sunburns and sun exposure can occur even in cloudy or overcast weather. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and you may be surprised by how much you don’t know about this deadly killer. Not only is skin cancer the most common form of cancer in the United States, but over the past 30 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. That’s overwhelming, isn’t it? In addition, the national Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that there are more new cases of skin cancer than the incidence of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers…combined.
These statistics demonstrate that using the best sunscreen isn’t just a matter of skin care: It can be a matter of life and death. One look down the sunscreen aisle at Target or any other major department store reveals a dizzying array and variety of brands, and SPF ratings – an information overload. So how do you choose a sunscreen? Here are some helpful terms to help you evaluate the effectiveness of the sunscreen you’re choosing.
UVA and UVB:
These are two different types of ultraviolet radiation that can damage the skin and therefore increase the risk of skin cancer.
Stands for Sun Protection Factor. This measures the sunscreen’s ability to prevent radiation from damaging the skin. For example, if it takes 20 minutes for skin to start turning red, a sunscreen with an SPF 15 rating will—in theory—prevent the “reddening” for about 15 times longer, which adds up to about five hours.
These sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
Before selecting a sunscreen, you should evaluate your skin type and take into consideration any family history of skin cancer or other cancers. In addition, consider how long you will be exposed to the sun and what time of day you will be outside. Your sunscreen should offer broad spectrum protection which will protect you from large portions of the damaging ultraviolet light spectrum. While an SPF of 15 may be appropriate for exposure of a few minutes, any intense, long-term exposure requires an SPF of 30 or higher. If you are going to be participating in water sports, be sure to use a waterproof sunscreen and to reapply it periodically.
The Skin Cancer Foundation issues a Seal of Recommendation to sun protection products that it feels meet specific criteria for safe and effective sun protection. For more information on the seal, or on skin cancer, visit the foundation’s website by clicking here.
If skin cancer is detected early, it is treatable. For this reason, it’s important to speak with your doctor concerning how often you should have a skin cancer screening.