What You Need to Know About Sunscreen

While there are numerous sunscreen products on the market, not all are created equal. It can be difficult for consumers to know whether they are using the best product for their needs.


What to Look for in a Sunscreen

  • Make sure the sunscreen is "broad spectrum" for protection against UVA and UVB rays
  • Ensure it is water-resistant
  • Look for an SPF of 30 or higher. There's little evidence to suggest an SPF of 50 or greater offers better protection.
  • Lotions or cream provide more consistent protection, since it can be challenging to get consistent coverage with a spray version
  • More expensive products do not necessarily mean they are a better product

Share This Story

When and How to Apply Sunscreen and Stay Smart in the Sun

  • Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going into the sun
  • Reapply sunscreen after 30 minutes of your first exposure to the sun, and then again every two hours as long as you're outside
  • Apply a sufficient quantity of sunscreen. An average-sized person should apply an amount equivalent to one ounce (approximately a shot glass size)

The Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, essentially suggests how long individuals can stay outside with sunscreen. People mistakenly believe they can stay outside longer because of the sunscreen. But that isn't true. The strength of UV light varies throughout the day, so it's important to be smart in the sun.


Expiration Dates on Sunscreen


Putting an expiration date on sunscreens is not the idea or initiative of the manufacturer; it is a requirement imposed on the manufacturer by the US Government FDA to protect consumers and users of sunscreen. It can also be the duration that the manufacturer has tested to guarantee the protection until that date at least.


Sunscreen does not stop working the day after the expiration date. Sunscreen is usually effective for at least three years, which is usually longer than the expiration date marked.


What to Look for When You have Allergies or Sensitive Skin


Skin allergies can be a common problem. For individuals with sensitive skin, try physical sunscreens.


Physical sunscreen protects your skin by deflecting or blocking the sun's rays, while chemical sunscreens absorb the sun's rays. Look for sunscreens with main ingredients of Titanium dioxide or Zinc oxide. 


Spray sunscreens may also cause allergic reactions in individuals, so again, lotions or creams may be better.


How to Stay Safe Outdoors with Both Sunscreen and Insect Repellent


Some popular new products on the market combine sunscreen with insect repellent, a seemingly convenient and cost-effective method of protecting yourself against the effects of sun exposure and mosquito bites.


Two-in-one products are potentially dangerous because application limits for insect repellent are different than for sunscreen. If you re-apply sunscreen at the recommended intervals, you would actually be over-applying the insect repellant. The Centers for Disease Control recommends applying sunscreen first, followed by a separate product for insect repellent.


What to Do When You Get Sunburned


Despite your best efforts, you may still get sunburned. How you treat it will depend on the degree of the burn.


For mild sunburn, a cool compress or ice within 48-72 hours can help alleviate the discomfort. Hydrocortisone or aloe vera gel can also help soothe the skin.


If blisters develop, you can use over the counter treatments, or in some cases dermatologists can help reduce inflammation with prescription drugs.


If pain is severe or you have any concerns, see your dermatologist.


While one or even two sunburns aren't likely to cause significant damage, sun protection is critical for preventing any further damage.


What the FDA Guidelines Mean for You


The new FDA guidelines are to help ensure sunscreen labels are not misleading for consumers. While they don't go into effect until Summer 2012, some manufacturers are already working to ensure the labels on their products reflect the new guidelines.


The changes to labeling will include:

  • Sunscreen products are never truly waterproof, only water resistant. New labeling will include a length of time consumers can expect adequate coverage while sweating or swimming.
  • Products labeled "broad spectrum" must protect against both UVB and UVA rays
  • The highest SPF value will be 50+, which is consistent with labeling in both Europe and Australia
  • Only products that pass testing as broad spectrum with an SPF of 15 or greater may claim that they help prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging