8 Dermatologist-approved Ways to Make Sure Your Sunscreen is Working For You
When it comes to protecting your skin from the sun, you likely know the drill by now: Use sunscreen. Use it all year round. Use it liberally. And reapply it regularly.
Frequent use of sunscreen is of course one of the best things you can do to protect your skin from cancer and/or premature aging. Yet the ever-increasing rates of skin cancer seem to suggest we may not be doing it; and if we are, we may not be doing it correctly or often enough.
May 27 is being recognized by the American Cancer Society and the National Council on Skin Cancer as “Don’t Fry Day” in an effort to raise awareness of skin cancer leading into Memorial Day weekend and the start of the sun-drenched summer season.
In the spirit of raising continued awareness, Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery presents eight dermatologist-approved ways to make sure your sunscreen is working for you.
1: Aim High
Consumer Reports recently separated sunscreens into categories based on the claimed Sun Protection Factor (SPF), and a significant percentage tested below the number on the label at every SPF level. Your best bet is to choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 40 or higher as it will give you a better shot of hitting SPF 30, the minimum level many dermatologists recommend.
2: Go Broad
Look for the words “Broad Spectrum” on the label. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The drug facts section on the label will provide more information on what "Broad Spectrum" protects against.
3: Don't Be Stingy
We need one ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover the parts of our body that are exposed to the sun. “We've done studies that show that people use only about 20 percent of the serving size and with that they get a fraction of the SPF they think they are getting,” says Mona Mofid, MD, a dermatologist in San Diego and the Medical Director of the American Melanoma Foundation.
4: Reapply, Reapply, Reapply
Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes BEFORE going outdoors, and reapply at least every two hours spent outdoors, and immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.
The term “water-resistant” does not give you a free pass. Water resistance claims on the products’ front label tell how much time you and yours can expect to get the SPF protection while swimming or sweating. Two times are permitted on labels: 40 minutes or 80 minutes.
5: Augment with Protective Clothing
Even the best sunscreen and the most vigilant user needs a little help, and clothing is the first line of defense from the sun’s harmful rays. Protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, are key, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. In general, dark or bright colors absorb more UV than paler shades, and denser fabrics, like denim or canvas, are more protective than sheer or loosely woven cloth. Loose-fitting clothes are preferable to tighter garments, which can stretch and expose skin to the sun, experts say.
6: Choose Wisely
Sunscreens come in all sorts of options…sprays, sticks and mists, to name just a few. Choose and use the one that best suits your lifestyle. Some companies are testing sunscreen supplements or drinks that may protect us from skin cancer from the inside out, but the jury is out on these for the time being. Always choose a separate product for lips (which are at risk for skin cancer too).
7: Make a Shady Deal
Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade, the AAD stresses.
8: See your Dermatologist
Make sure to schedule an annual skin check with your doctor, and do monthly at-home checks. If something looks suspicious, run it by your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Even melanoma, the potentially fatal form of skin cancer, is close to 100 percent curable when caught early, Dr. Mofid says.
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