A person squeezes sunscreen into their hand

Sun Daze: Choosing the Right Sunscreen

As the summer days stretch on, you’ll probably spend at least some of your time outdoors, whether reading in a lounge chair, playing with your kids, or relaxing at the beach. However, exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can lead to sunburns, premature skin aging, and skin cancer. Picking the right sunscreen for your needs—as well as practicing other safe sun habits—can reduce your risk of sun damage and protect your skin.

What Does Broad Spectrum Mean?

A sunscreen must protect the skin from both types of UV rays that reach the Earth—UVA and UVB—to earn a broad-spectrum designation. UVA rays make up the majority of the radiation the sun emits, and UVB rays are responsible for sunburns. However, both types can damage the epidermis and lead to the formation of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers, so protection against both is a necessity.

The Importance of SPF

Dozens of brands of sunscreen line the shelves of the average grocery store. All sport different SPF levels, but what do these numbers mean? They don’t correlate to how long the sunscreen will protect you from the sun, but rather how much of the sunburn-causing UVB rays it protects you from. SPF 50 will block out roughly 98% of the UVB rays, while SPF 100 will block out 99%. If you have fair skin or a high risk of skin cancer, you may want to consider a sunscreen with a higher SPF. For optimal protection, reapply sunscreen as often as the bottle recommends.

Which Is the Right Formula for You?

With so many formulas on the market, choosing the right sunscreen can be confusing. Consider your skin type and what outdoor activities you’ll participate in to choose the right one to meet your needs.

  • Water-Resistant Formula. This formula is suitable for swimming, exercising, or any other activity where you might expect to get wet or sweat more than usual. Check the bottle to see whether you need to reapply after 40 or 80 minutes of getting wet.
  • Spray Formula. While spraying sunscreen right onto the skin is convenient, many people don’t apply enough to get adequate coverage. You should spray each area of the body for at least 6 seconds. Additionally, some of the ingredients that turn this formula into an aerosol can also make it flammable, so opt for a different type if you’ll be around a campfire or other open flame.
  • Lotion Formula. This type of sunscreen can benefit those with dry skin. People are also more likely to get better coverage with lotions than with sprays.
  • Sensitive Skin Formula. These sunscreens don’t contain fragrances, which means they’re less likely to aggravate delicate skin.

No matter your plans, there are many high-quality sunscreens on the market to keep you and your family safe this summer. Routinely checking your skin for changes is another great way to manage your health. If at any time you happen to notice something new or an abnormal mole, schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician for testing and a referral, if necessary.

Sources:
FDA | Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun
FDA | Use Sunscreen Spray? Avoid Open Flame
Harvard Health Publishing | Which is best for optimal sun protection — sprays or lotions?
American Cancer Society | How Do I Protect Myself from UV Rays?
Skin Cancer Foundation | How to Choose the Right Sunscreen for Your Skin Type
Skin Cancer Foundation | UVA & UVB
Skin Cancer Foundation | Ask the Expert: Does a High SPF Protect My Skin Better?
AAD | Sunscreen FAQs