With summer here, you’re probably thinking about spending some time in the sun, whether you play sports outdoors, swim, or straight-up sunbathe. Although getting some color back to your skin after a long winter indoors might seem nice, protecting your skin from the sun is much more important than tanning. Regardless of your race or how dark your skin is, everyone’s skin absorbs harmful UV rays, which can lead to deadly skin cancers.
Probably the easiest and most common way to protect your skin from the sun is to wear sunscreen. But just walk through the sunscreen aisle at any store, and you’ll be bombarded with choices. Here’s what you need to know:
Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering UV light so that your skin doesn’t absorb it. UV rays consist of three wavelengths, A, B, and C. Be sure to buy sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays (UVC rays don’t reach the earth).
All sunscreens labels are required to include an SPF, or sun protection factor. Sunscreens with an SPF 15 label protect from 93 percent of UVB rays, while sunscreens with SPF 30 protect against 97 percent. Most experts say that SPF 15 is sufficient for most people; don’t buy sunscreen with an SPF less than 15.
When choosing a sunscreen, look for one of the following ingredients, all of which protect against broad-spectrum UVA and UVB rays:
- Avobenzone (Parsol 1789)
- Titanium dioxide
- Zinc oxide
Choose a sunscreen without lots of added fragrances or preservatives that may irritate the skin. If you’re going to be in the water, choose a water resistant sunscreen.
Apply sunscreen about thirty minutes before being exposed to the sun. Use more sunscreen than you think you need (a little does not go a long way in this case). Reapply every two hours, or more often if you are swimming, sweating, or in a high altitude or humid climate.
Sunscreen is essential for everyone. If you don’t like a particular brand of sunscreen, try another one, as they are not all made with the same ingredients. Many common brands, including Coppertone, offer an oil-free brand won’t cause breakouts. Also be sure to buy cosmetics—especially lip products—that have an SPF of 15 or higher.
In addition to wearing sunscreen, other ways to protect your skin from the sun include:
- Wearing protective clothing that covers your body (loose-fitting, tightly-woven fabrics are the best)
- Wearing a wide-brimmed hat
- Wearing sunglasses—especially wrap-around frames—that block UVA and UVB rays
- Staying in the shade
- Avoiding exposure to the sun between 10AM and 4PM, when UV rays are most hazardous