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Prevention Strategies

Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a valuable tool you can use to help protect your skin from the sun, especially when you are going to be outdoors for long periods of time while vacationing. Make sure you always have sunscreen with you whenever you are planning your outdoor adventures!

Sunscreen is formulated to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun. It comes in many forms including creams, lotions, and sprays. Sunscreen ingredients are classified as either chemical or physical, based on how they perform on the skin.

  • Chemical sunscreens bond with the skin and work by absorbing UV radiation.
  • Physical sunscreens lie on top of the skin and work by reflecting or scattering UV radiation.

Both chemical and physical sunscreens protect you from the sun. Choose the one that feels and works best for you. You may have to try a few sunscreens before you find exactly the right one!

About SPF

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is a measure of UVB only. It tells you the strength of your sunscreen and even more important how long your sunscreen will last.

  • Strength: No sunscreen blocks 100% of UV. An SPF of 15 blocks 93% of UV rays, and an SPF of 50 blocks 98%. Be sure to use an SPF of 30 or higher!
  • Length: To know how long your sunscreen will last, first determine how many minutes it takes your unprotected skin to burn. Then multiply that number by the SPF of your sunscreen to find out how many minutes you will be protected. For example, if your skin usually burns in 10 minutes and you are wearing sunscreen with SPF 30, it will take 300 minutes for your skin to burn.
 

Time to Burn Without Protection
X      Sunscreen SPF     
= Minutes of Protection

For example:
10 min x SPF 30 = 300 min (5 hours) until sunburn

How to Apply Sunscreen

Sunscreen should be applied in a THICK even layer over all sun-exposed skin. Lip balm with SPF 15 or more can be used on the lips. Apply your sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside to give the chemicals time to work. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or after swimming, toweling off, or sweating. Even sunscreens that are labeled "water resistant" should be reapplied often. Throw your bottle of sunscreen into your beach bag or backpack so you can reapply no matter where you are.

How Much Sunscreen to Apply

An easy way to remember how much sunscreen you need, is to use the Two Finger Rule. Imagine your body divided into 11 parts. Put a line of sunscreen on your index and middle finger. Apply these two fingers of sunscreen to each of the 11 parts of your body. If at first this seems like too much, use one finger length and then in 30 minutes put on the other finger length.

New FDA Guidelines for Sunscreen

In December 2012, the FDA published new guidelines. Here is what you should look for when you shop for sunscreen.

On the front of the bottle:

  • Look for "Broad Spectrum" with an SPF of 15 or higher. Sunscreen products with this label will protect you from sun-induced skin damage (both UVA and UVB).
  • Look for "Water Resistant" claims of 40 or 80 minutes to be sure you are receiving the sunscreen's full SPF level of protection while you are swimming or sweating. To be sure you and your family are always protected, reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

On the back of the bottle:

  • The new labeling will also tell consumers that sunscreen labeled as both "Broad Spectrum" and "SPF 15" (or higher) not only protects against sunburn, but, if used as directed with other sun protection measures, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. For these broad spectrum products, higher SPF values also indicate higher levels of overall UV protection.
  • Sunscreen products that are not broad spectrum or that are broad spectrum with SPF values from 2 to 14 will be labeled with a warning that reads: "Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."

While sunscreen is valuable for sun protection when used correctly, no sunscreen lasts all day or blocks all of the sun's harmful rays. Ideally, sunscreen should be used in addition to wearing cover-up clothing and hats, and finding shade.

Sunscreen FAQs:

Should sunscreen be reapplied?
Yes. Sunscreen should be reapplied about every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating. However, reapplication only keeps up the protection of the first application, it doesn't give you extra protection. If applying sunscreen of SPF 15 gives you 2 hours in the sun without burning, then reapplying the sunscreen after 2 hours does not protect you for another 2 hours! If you know you'll be outdoors for a long time, use a higher SPF.1

Can I use sunscreen with insect repellant?
Recent studies suggest that insect repellents containing DEET(the active ingredient in most insect repellents) may degrade the SPF of sunscreens. If you need to use an insect repellent, consider wearing protective clothing and a hat to maximize your sun protection. If you do use both, apply the sunscreen first to allow it to bond with the skin and then apply the insect repellent over it. Products that contain both insect repellant and sunscreen are not recommended.

How common are sunscreen allergies?
Fortunately, allergic reaction to sunscreen is very uncommon and, if one does occur, it is generally a minor reversible skin rash. Less than 1% of people have some reaction to some ingredients in certain sunscreens. Hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products are good choices especially for people already known to have skin allergies. PABA, which has caused allergic reactions in many people, has been removed from most sunscreens.

Before parents put sunscreen on their child, they should perform a test by dabbing a small amount on the back of the child's hand. If a rash or itching develops, a doctor or pharmacist can help recommend products that might be better for the child's skin. Remember, it is not recommended to use sunscreen on children who are six months old or younger.

How long will sunscreen last after I purchase it?
Unless the expiration date says otherwise, sunscreen will last for about two years. So, when you buy your sunscreen write the date on the bottle with a permanent marker and dispose of it after two years.

I've heard that sunscreen is actually harmful and it can cause skin cancer.
There is no evidence that demonstrates that using sunscreen puts anyone at greater risk of developing skin cancer. It is important to remember, however, that no sunscreen is a perfect barrier against UV rays. All sunscreens let some UV rays through to the skin. Applying sunscreen only lengthens the amount of time you can spend in the sun without burning. In addition, no sunscreen lasts all day. Sunscreen should not be used to prolong your time in the sun.

What are the active ingredients in sunscreen?
Many sunscreen products contain a combination of chemical and physical sunscreen ingredients to make them more effective and less allergenic. See some active ingredients for FDA-approved sunscreens below:2

Active Ingredient/UV Filter Name

UVA protection?

UVB protection?

Chemical Absorbers:

Aminobenzoic acid(PABA)

No

Yes

Avobenzone

Some UVA

No

Cinoxate

No

Yes

Dioxybenzone

Some UVA

Yes

Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX)

Some UVA

No

Ensulizole (Phenylbenzimiazole Sulfonic Acid)

No

Yes

Homosalate

No

Yes

Meradimate (Menthyl Anthranilate)

Some UVA

No

Octocrylene

No

Yes

Octinoxate (Octyl Methoxycinnamate)

No

Yes

Octisalate (Octyl Salicylate)

No

Yes

Oxybenzone

Some UVA

Yes

Padimate O

No

Yes

Sulisobenzone

Some UVA

Yes

Trolamine Salicylate

No

Yes

Physical Filters:

Titanium Dioxide

Some UVA

Yes

Zinc Oxide

Yes

Yes

1. Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency
2. The Skin Cancer Foundation