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How to Choose the Best Sunscreen and How to Apply It

Sunscreen is an important factor in the fight against skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. This fact cannot be ignored. What to do? Use the proper sunscreen and apply it properly. Here’s what to look for:

Broad-Spectrum UVA/UVB Protection
According to the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD), about 1 million people receive diagnoses of skin cancer every year in the United States alone. To minimize the risk, the AAD recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays go deep into the skin and weaken the body's immune system, making it more susceptible to diseases such as skin cancer. UVB rays cause the skin to burn and peel.
SPF 30 or Higher
The AAD recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. SPF stands for sun-protection factor, and it is used to determine how well a particular sunscreen blocks the sun's damaging rays. Anything lower than SPF 30 is considered too weak to provide adequate protection.
Water Resistant
The AAD also recommends that all sunscreens be water-resistant, especially if you plan on swimming or engaging in aquatic activities. If sunscreen is not water-resistant, it will wash off easily as soon as it comes in contact with water. As a result, the sunscreen's cancer-preventative effects will be negated. Using water-resistant sunscreen ensures that you will be protected in and out of the water. Your sunscreen should be water resistant for up to 40 or 80 minutes. Sunscreen can no longer claim to be waterproof or sweatproof.

NOTE: One ounce of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body.

Top Recommended Sunscreen Brands: 

Like most over-the-counter products, not all sunscreens are created equal. Some sunscreens provide higher sun protection, while others contain ingredients that are better suited for children’s skin. The key is choosing a sunscreen that will provide the best sun protection for all family members, and combining sunscreen use with other sun-smart behaviors.

“The best type of sunscreen is the one you will use again and again,” said dermatologist Henry W. Lim, MD, FAAD, C.S. Livingood Chair and chairman of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich. “Just be sure to choose one that offers broad-spectrum protection, has an SPF of 30 or greater, and is water resistant.”
What sunscreens are best for infants and children?
Ideally, babies under 6 months should not spend time directly in the sun. Since babies’ skin is much more sensitive than adults, sunscreens should be avoided if possible. Instead, Dr. Lim says the best sun protection for babies is to keep them in the shade as much as possible and dress them in long sleeves, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.

Sunscreen can be applied to exposed skin not covered by clothing on toddlers and infants 6 months or older. Dr. Lim noted that sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are most appropriate for thethinner skin of toddlers and infants 6 months or older since they do not penetrate the skin and are less likely to cause irritation.

Are sunscreens safe?
Scientific evidence supports the benefits of using sunscreen to minimize short- and long-term damage to the skin from sun exposure. Dermatologists agree that preventing skin cancer and sunburn far outweigh any unproven concerns for toxicity or human health hazard from sunscreen ingredients. However, sunscreen alonecannot fully protect people from the sun. Instead, the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy) recommends that in addition to applying sunscreen, everyone should seek shade, wear protective clothing and sunglasses, and stay out of tanning beds – all important behaviors to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

What type of sunscreen should I use? Are spray sunscreens safe?
Dr. Lim says the kind of sunscreen you choose is a matter of personal choice, and may vary depending on the area of the body to be protected. Available sunscreen options include lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks and sprays.
Creams are best for dry skin and the face.
Gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest.
Sticks are good to use around the eyes.
Sprays are sometimes preferred by parents since they are easy to apply to children. Men may find it convenient to apply it to a balding scalp. The FDA is currently investigating the risks of accidental inhalation of spray sunscreens. Dr. Lim pointed out that the challenge in using spray sunscreens is that it is difficult to know if you have used enough spray sunscreen to cover all sun-exposed areas of the body, which may result in inadequate coverage.

Dr. Lim added that you should never spray sunscreen around or near your face or mouth. Instead, spray an adequate amount of sunscreen into your hands and then apply the sunscreen to facial areas. When applying spray sunscreens on children, be aware of the direction of the wind to avoid inhalation.

Which sunscreen is best?
Surveys disagree with each other, so just look for what the AAD recommends: Broad spectrum, SPF of 30 or above, and water resistant.
Regardless of which sunscreen you choose, be sure to apply it generously to achieve the UV protection indicated on the product label.

How to Apply Sunscreen
Apply sunscreen generously before going outdoors.It takes approximately 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen and protect you. If you wait until you are in the sun to apply sunscreen, your skin is unprotected and can burn.
Use enough sunscreen.Most adults need at least one ounce of sunscreen, about the amount you can hold in your palm, to fully cover all exposed areas of your body. Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into your skin.
Apply sunscreen to all bare skin.Remember your neck, face, ears, tops of your feet and legs. For hard‐to‐reach areas like your back, ask someone to help you or use a spray sunscreen. If you have thinning hair, either apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide‐brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm with a SPF of at least 15 (Timeout4me’s lip balm does that due to both Vitamin E and xx).
Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours to remain protected, or immediately after swimming or excessively sweating.
People who get sunburned usually didn't use enough sunscreen, didn't reapply it after being in the sun, or used an expired product.
Your skin is exposed to the sun's harmful UV rays every time you go outside, even on cloudy days and in the winter. So whether you are on vacation or taking a brisk fall walk in your neighborhood, remember to use sunscreen.

Sources: (American Academy of Dermatology)

Before you spend any more time in the sun for an extended period, check out my Summer Survival Bag, complete with sunscreen and other skin-care products.

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