Now that the “June gloom” is gone, let’s chat about sunscreen.
We all know we’re supposed to use it, but what kind? How? How much? Using sunscreen properly doesn’t just protect your skin from burning. It also helps prevent skin cancer, and even premature aging of the skin (you know, wrinkles). This summer the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to make some changes to its guidelines for sunscreen manufacturers, and to how sunscreens are labeled. These won’t be in full effect until next summer, but they can offer some help right now.
Pick the right protection: FDA is establishing new tests to determine how well sunscreens protect. Two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can damage our skin: UVA and UVB. UVB rays mainly cause sunburn, while UVA rays also contribute to skin cancer and premature aging. You want sunscreen that protects against both types, and under FDA’s new rules, these will be labeled “Broad Spectrum.” For now, look for some sort of language on the label that says the product protects against UVA and UVB.
Pick enough protection: You’re also looking for a sunscreen that will block enough of those rays to protect your skin. The amount of protection a sunscreen provides is called its Sun Protection Factor (SPF), and experts suggest choosing a formula with an SPF of 15 or higher. FDA has proposed limiting maximum SPF values on labeling to “50+” because there isn’t enough evidence to prove that SPF values higher than 50 actually make a difference.
Use enough sunscreen: It takes a full ounce of sunscreen to really cover your exposed skin. Most experts say most of us just don’t use enough. One unorthodox way to measure: a shot glass. Use a full shot glass-worth of sunscreen each time you apply, and slather over all skin that might see the sun.
If you sweat it: No sunscreen is truly waterproof, and next year they won’t be allowed to claim they are. Sunscreens will be allowed to call themselves “water resistant,” and claim that they will last for either 40 or 80 minutes while the wearer is swimming or sweating. Meanwhile, no matter what your sunscreen says on the label, reapply at least every two hours. Really.
If you follow the one-ounce-every-two-hours guideline, you’ll run through an average bottle or tube of sunscreen pretty fast. So pack plenty.