May 23, 2017
Skin cancer has become an alarming problem in the United States, with 1 in 5 Americans likely to develop it at some point in their lives. The good news? Skin cancer is largely avoidable because 90 percent of the time, the cancer is directly related to how strongly and how often one is exposed to the sun. Applying sunscreen is a simple and effective way to prevent your skin from unprotected sun exposure.
Sun safety is important, but it can be difficult choosing the right SPF level and knowing how often to apply sunscreen with so many options available. That’s why we put the following Q&A together for you to read before you find yourself confused in the sunscreen aisle.
The general rule of thumb from the American Academy of Dermatology is to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that is broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays) and water-resistant.
Contrary to popular belief, no matter how dark your skin is, you still need sunscreen. And yet, a 2006 study found that sunscreen advertisements are more prevalent in magazines with white audiences, further supporting this myth. However, a Washington Post report cites that even though the incidence of skin cancer among African-Americans is low, they “experience a 73 percent five-year survival rate compared with a rate of 91 percent for whites.”
There are brands that tout extremely high SPF, like SPF 150. But once you reach SPF 50, the increase in protection against UVB rays is minimal at best. Most people don’t need more than SPF 30 for everyday use and SPF 50 for outdoor activities. In fact, regulators cap SPF values at 50 in Europe, Japan and Australia.
The SPF number indicates how much longer it takes to burn in comparison to not wearing any sunscreen. If you’re wearing SPF 30 and it takes you one minute to burn without sunscreen, it would take you 30 minutes to burn, so you’d want to apply every 25-30 minutes.
Many sun-goers hoping to get a tan use tanning oil instead of sunscreen. Usually, tanning oil has a tiny amount of SPF that can deceive people into thinking it will allow a tan while protecting them. However, tanning oil is not sunscreen, even if it has SPF! The ingredients in tanning oil intensify the sun’s UV rays, which can increase the risk of sunburn if you’re overexposed to the sun without the recommended SPF level.
If your skin is prone to an allergy or acne, you should avoid sunscreen with fragrances, alcohol and preservatives. Sunscreens made with salicylates and ecamule are least likely to cause a reaction. Other safe options block sun with low-risk ingredients that include zinc oxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX.
If you’re on acne medication, be sure to consult with your doctor about what sunscreen they recommend because numerous acne medications drastically increase sun sensitivity. If you’re on a topical acne medication, your doctor will likely recommend you don’t apply it before going in the sun. If you’re taking an oral medication, wear a hat!