It's hot out, and the sun is shining…time to head outdoors for some summer fun. Of course, we all know that you should first slather on some sunscreen. With an abundance of conflicting information out there, it's easy to be confused about the best way to prevent sunburn (and therefore the risk of skin cancer). Some sunscreen facts to help you make sense of it all:
1. Sunscreen ingredients fall into two categories — mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.
2. Mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients reflect UVB rays.
3. The list of chemical sunscreen ingredients is long. Commonly used chemical sunscreen ingredients include: oxybenzone, octyl methoxycinnamate, avobenzone, and octisalate. These ingredients absorb UVB rays
4. Some ingredients battle UVA rays, while others take on UVB rays. You need protection from both. Look for the words "Broad Spectrum" on labeling.
5. Look for the words "Active Ingredients" on the ingredient panel. This will list the sunscreen ingredient(s) being used. (Note: If you don't see the words "active ingredients," the product is NOT in compliance with the FDA's sunscreen regulations…buyer beware!)
6. Some sunscreens combine mineral and chemical ingredients, so if you feel strongly about avoiding one or the other, read the ingredient listing carefully.
7. The SPF (sun protection factor) rating of sunscreens can be misleading. A sunscreen with SPF 15 will block about 90% of UVB rays, while an SPF 30 blocks only about 94% (not double, as the numbers would suggest). Wondering about those super-high SPF values? So is the FDA. Pending regulations may limit manufacturers to ratings of "30+" or "45+".
8. A little dab won't do ya when it comes to sunscreen application. In order for sunscreens to be effective, you must apply them generously…and reapply often. A good rule of thumb is one ounce every two hours.
9. Check the expiration dates on old bottles of sunscreen. Most products are tested to be effective for three years from date of manufacture.
10. Research, and regulations, are a moving target. The FDA is long overdue in updating sunscreen regulations (new guidelines have been "pending" since 2007). So it's wise to stay current with the research that is being done, and most importantly, follow your doctor's advice.
Want to read more? The Skin Cancer Foundation provides up-to-date information.