You probably already know that you should use sunscreen when you're sunbathing or playing on the beach. However, dermatologists recommend that you apply sunscreen every time you go out for more than 20 minutes, even if the weather is cloudy. You should also use sunscreen even when the sun is covered by clouds. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause skin damage in just 15 minutes! This damage can lead to skin cancer.
Part 1 of 3: Choosing Sunscreen
Step 1. Pay attention to the SPF number
SPF refers to the "sun protective factor" contained in the sunscreen, or how long the sunscreen's ability to block UVB rays. The SPF number indicates the length of time it takes to get sunburnt using sunscreen compared to not using sunscreen.
- For example, SPF 30 means you can spend 30 times longer in the sun before sunburn than if you didn't use sunscreen at all. So if your skin usually starts to burn after 5 minutes in the sun, SPF 30 in theory allows you to spend 150 minutes (30x5) outdoors before your skin burns. However, the uniqueness of the skin, the type of activity, and the intensity of the sun can be factors that cause the effectiveness of the sunscreen used varies from person to person, so you may have to apply more sunscreen than others.
- The SPF numbers can be a bit confusing as the protection doesn't increase proportionally. Thus, SPF 60 is by no means twice as good as SPF 30. SPF 15 blocks about 94% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks about 97%, and SPF 45 blocks about 98%. No sunscreen product blocks UVB rays completely or 100%.
- The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of 30 or higher. The difference between very high SPF is often insignificant and not worth the extra money.
Step 2. Choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen
SPF simply refers to the ability of sunscreen to block UVB rays that can cause sunburn. However, the sun also emits UVA rays. UVA causes skin damage, such as signs of aging, wrinkles and dark or light patches. Both can increase the risk of skin cancer. Broad spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Some sunscreens may not list “broad spectrum” on the packaging. However, the product must always state whether it can provide protection against UVB and UVA rays.
- Most broad-spectrum sunscreens contain "inorganic" components such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, as well as "organic" components such as avobenzone, Cinoxate, oxybenzone, or octyl methoxycinnamate.
Step 3. Look for a water-resistant sunscreen
The body excretes water through sweat. Therefore, you should look for a water-resistant sunscreen. This is especially important if you are going to be doing a very active activity, such as running or hiking, or if you are going to be doing water activities.
- No sunscreen is “waterproof” or “sweat-proof”. In the United States alone, sunscreen products cannot be marketed with claims to be "waterproof".
- Even when using a water-resistant sunscreen, reapply every 40-80 minutes or as directed on the label.
Step 4. Decide what you like
Some people prefer spray sunscreen, while others prefer thick creams or gels. Whatever your choice, make sure to apply a thick, even layer. Application is just as important as SPF and any other factor: if you don't apply it properly, sunscreen will not give you the maximum benefit.
- Spray sunscreens are probably best for hairy areas, while creams are usually best for dry skin. Alcoholic, gel-based sunscreens are best for oily skin.
- You can also buy sun block candles, which are great for applying around the eye area.
- Water-resistant sunscreens are usually sticky, so not a great choice to apply before makeup. Use a special sunscreen for the face. These products usually have a higher SPF (15 or higher), and are less likely to clog pores or increase acne breakouts.
Step 5. Go home and apply a little sunscreen around the wrist
If you notice an allergic reaction or skin problem, buy a different sunscreen product. Repeat the above process until you find the right sunscreen, or talk to your doctor about recommended brands if you have sensitive or allergy-prone skin.
Itching, redness, burning, or blistering are all signs of an allergic reaction. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are less likely to cause allergic skin reactions
Part 2 of 3: Applying Sunscreen
Step 1. Check the expiration date
The United States Food and Drug Administration requires that sunscreens maintain their protective power for at least three years from the date of manufacture. However, you should always pay attention to the expiration date. If the date has passed, throw away the old bottle and buy a new sunscreen.
- If the product doesn't have an expiration date when you buy it, use a permanent marker or label to write the date of purchase on the bottle. That way, you'll know how long you've had the product.
- Obvious changes to the product, such as discoloration, separation, or a different consistency are signs that the sunscreen has expired.
Step 2. Apply sunscreen before stepping out in the sun
The chemicals in sunscreen take time to blend into the skin and become a fully functioning protective layer. Apply sunscreen before leaving the house.
Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before you expose yourself to the sun. Lip sunscreen should be applied 45-60 minutes before being out in the sun
Step 3. Use in sufficient quantity
One of the biggest mistakes in using sunscreen is not applying it in sufficient quantity. Adults usually need about 28 grams - a palm, or about a shot glass full - of sunscreen to cover exposed skin evenly.
- To apply a cream or gel sunscreen, squeeze the tube and dispense about a glob of sunscreen into the palm of your hand. Rub sunscreen into the skin until the white color is no longer visible.
- To apply spray sunscreen, hold the bottle upright and move the bottle back and forth over your skin. Spray until it forms an even and thick enough layer. Make sure the wind doesn't blow the sunscreen off before it hits the skin. Do not inhale spray sunscreen. Be careful when spraying sunscreen on your face, especially around children.
Step 4. Apply sunscreen all over the skin
Don't forget areas like the ears, neck, tops of the feet and hands, and even the part of the hair. Any skin that will be exposed to the sun should be protected with sunscreen.
- You may have difficulty applying sunscreen thoroughly on areas such as your back. Ask someone to help apply sunscreen to these areas.
- Thin clothing often doesn't provide much sun protection. For example, a white T-shirt only has an SPF of 7. Wear clothes designed to block out UV rays, or apply sunscreen to the skin underneath the clothes.
Step 5. Don't forget the face
The face actually needs more sunscreen than other parts of the body because many skin cancers occur on the face, especially in the nose and surrounding areas. Some cosmetics or lotions may contain sunscreen. However, if you are going to be outside for more than 20 minutes (in total, not at one time) you will need to apply a facial sunscreen as well.
- Many facial sunscreens come in cream or lotion form. If you use spray sunscreen, spray it on your hands first, then spray it on your face. If possible, you should avoid using a spray sunscreen for the face.
- The Skin Cancer Foundation has released a searchable list of facial sunscreens.
- Use a lip balm or lip sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher on the lips.
- If you are bald or have thin hair, don't forget to spritz some sunscreen on your head too. You can also wear a hat to help protect against sun damage.
Step 6. Reapply/spray sunscreen after 15-30 minutes
Research shows that reapplying sunscreen after about 15-30 minutes in the sun will provide better protection than if you wait after 2 hours.
After you finish this first re-application, reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or as directed on the label
Part 3 of 3: Staying Safe in the Sun
Step 1. Try to stay in the shade
Even if you use sunscreen, you will still be exposed to strong sunlight. Being in the shade or using an umbrella will help protect you from sun damage.
Avoid the “hottest hours”. The sun's rays reach their hottest levels between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If possible, avoid sun exposure during these hours. Seek shade if you are outdoors during this time
Step 2. Wear protective clothing
Not all clothes are created equal. However, long-sleeved shirts and long pants can help protect your skin from sun damage. Wear a hat to provide extra shade for your face and protect your scalp.
- Look for clothes made of tightly woven, dark-colored materials that provide maximum protection. For those who are very active outdoors, there are special clothing that comes with built-in sun protection and is available at specialty stores or online.
- Remember the sun glasses! The sun's UV rays can cause cataracts, so buy a pair of glasses that can block both UVB and UVA rays.
Step 3. Keep children out of the sun
Sun exposure, especially during the “hottest” hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., is especially dangerous for young children. Look for sunscreens specifically made for children and babies. Consult with your pediatrician to decide which products are safe for your child.
- Infants under 6 months of age should not use sunscreen or be exposed to direct sunlight. Baby's skin is immature so it is likely to absorb more of the chemicals contained in sunscreen. If you have to take your baby outside, try to keep them in the shade.
- If your baby is older than 6 months, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Be careful when applying sunscreen in the area around the eyes.
- Wear sun-protective clothing for young children, such as a hat, long-sleeved shirt or light trousers.
- Buy sun glasses with UV protection for your child.
- Buy a special sunscreen for the face. If your skin type is oily or your pores tend to get clogged, look for an "oil-free" or "non-comedogenic" sunscreen. Special formulas are available for sensitive skin.
- Even if you use sunscreen, don't overexpose yourself to the sun.
- Reapply sunscreen after exposure to water, every 2 hours, or as directed on the label. Sunscreen is not a one-time use product.