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Which Sunscreen Should You Choose? And How Do You Use It?

By HERWriter
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Which Sunscreen Should You Choose? How Do You Use It? gawriloff/Fotolia

Try reading about sunscreens and it is easy to become overwhelmed. Which sunscreen is the right one to use and what is the right way to use it?

Basically, this is what you need to know.

Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30, and reapply every two hours while outside and after swimming, regardless of whether or not it says it is water resistant.

SPF stands for sun protective factor and is the measuring tool that tells us how much blocking power the sunscreen we have chosen has.

Apply the sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside.

“That allows it to bind to the stratum corneum, the outer layer of the skin,” said Dr. John Wolf, chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine, in an REI.com sunscreen article.

Use a nickel-sized dose for your face alone and apply roughly an ounce in total to the entire body — about a shot glass full. Wolf suggested slathering it on to make sure you use enough. Don’t forget your ears and the tops of your feet.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that SPF 50 is almost twice as strong as SPF 30.

This is how SPF really works:

- An SPF of 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays

- An SPF of 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays

- An SPF of 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays

- An SPF of 50+ blocks 99 percent of UVB rays

You need to choose a broad spectrum sunscreen so it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

It used to be that sunscreens just focused on UVB rays. UVB rays are the ones that only penetrate the skin's outer layers but can cause sunburn and blistering. UVB cannot penetrate glass.

However, UVA rays have longer wavelengths, penetrate deeper into the skin, and are thought to be the main contributors to sun-induced aging. UVA rays can penetrate glass.

Both UVA and UVB have been found to contribute to skin cancers including melanoma, according to Skincancer.org.

Sunscreens no longer can be labeled waterproof or sweat proof, only water resistant according to the new FDA guidelines.

You may be wondering what the difference is between chemical and mineral sunscreens.

Chemical sunscreens use chemicals to absorb the UV rays. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to physically block UV rays away from your skin.

There is some controversy as to which is best to use, and whether the ingredients in some are harmful.

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit advocacy group which is well known for its annual sunscreen surveys.

“The EWG tends to favor mineral sunscreens for their low skin penetration and UVA effectiveness,” stated REI.com.

Two of the sunscreen ingredients EWG finds to be of great concern are vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate which they think “may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight (NTP 2012)”and oxybenzone which has shown evidence to be a hormone disruptor.

The EWG suggests using sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide because they provide good sun protection with less health concerns.

“The EWG claims of sunscreen concerns have been largely refuted, including the potential ‘dangers’ of nanoparticles, retinol, benzophenone (oxybenzone), free radicals, and so on,” says Dr. Susan Swetter, professor of Dermatology and director of the Pigmented Lesion and Melanoma Program at Stanford University Medical Center, according to REI.com.

Swetter went on to say, “Currently marketed sunscreens are deemed safe and effective by the FDA in preventing skin aging and skin cancer when used appropriately.”

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues.

Edited by Jody Smith

Sunscreen: How It Works. REI Coop.com. Retrieved July 17, 2016.

UVA & UVB. Skin Cancer.org. Retrieved July 17, 2016.

EWG’s Sunscreen Guide: A Decade of Progress, but Safety and Marketing Concerns Remain. EWG.org. Retrieved July 17, 2016.

Sunscreens Explained. Skin Cancer.org. Retrieved July 17, 2016.

You Know You Should Use Sunscreen. But Are You Using It Right? New York Times.com. Retrieved July 17, 2016.

Nanoparticles in Sunscreens. EWG.org. Retrieved July 17, 2016.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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