Choosing the Right Sunscreen

Summer is finally here and after a long Iowa winter, we’re all ready for a little sunshine. Before you head outdoors, it’s important to remember that the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage the DNA in your skin cells, which can cause previously healthy cells to become cancerous. Correctly using a good sunscreen is an easy way to protect yourself. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a sunscreen:

Choose “Broad Spectrum” Protection – This means the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. All sunscreen products protect against UVB rays, which cause sunburn and skin cancer. However, UVA rays also contribute to skin cancer and premature aging. A sunscreen product must pass rigorous testing to be labeled as “broad spectrum”. Sunscreens that only protect against UVB rays are required to include a warning that they only protect against sunburn and not skin cancer.

Look for Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or Higher – SPF measures the percentage of UVB rays the sunscreen product filters out. While you do get increased protection from a higher SPF, the difference becomes incrementally smaller the higher it goes. SPF 15 protects against 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 filters 97%, SPF 50 98%, and SPF 100 99%. Any sunscreen product below SPF 15 must include a warning that it only protects again sunburn, not skin cancer or premature aging. You may find these low SPF sunscreens marketed as tanning products.

No Sunscreen is Waterproof or Sweatproof  – If a sunscreen claims to be water resistant, it is required to list on the label how long it lasts while swimming or sweating. Be sure to read the label and reapply as necessary. A good rule of thumb is to reapply every two hours and more often if you’re swimming or sweating. Keep in mind it will likely rub off if you towel off getting out the pool, so it’s best practice to reapply then, too.

Just because you’ve chosen a good sunscreen doesn’t mean you have unlimited protection from the sun. It’s still important to reapply according to the directions, seek shade to take breaks, and limit your sun exposure from 10 am to 4 pm when UV rays are strongest. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor about your skin cancer risk and how to protect yourself.

Information provided by the American Cancer Society.