How to Use Sunscreen the Right Way
By Sheryl Kraft
With summer (finally!) upon us, we are spending more and more time outdoors.
And that's a good thing. It's good for your vitamin D levels, your mood, concentration, memory, energy and activity level and maybe even your ability to heal (one study found people recovering from spinal surgery did better when exposed to natural light).
There's no doubt a bout with nature boosts your mental and physical well-being.
But there's one thing you need to remember before you throw caution to the wind (or sun): the health of your skin.
Although most of us are aware of the dangers of the sun, not enough of us are (A) using the proper protection; or (B) using the proper protection the right way.
It's not rocket science—really, it's not—it's just a matter of knowing the facts and following the rules:
Use sunscreen before you step foot outside. That's because it takes about 15 minutes for sunscreen to absorb into your skin. If you wait until you're outside, there's a period where your exposed skin will be unprotected.
Use enough. The average adult needs at least one ounce for adequate coverage. That's about the amount you can hold in your palm or will fit in a shot glass.
Use it often. Sunscreen's protection wears off. To ensure protection, reapply at least every two hours or more often, especially if you've been swimming or sweating a lot.
Use it all over. Don't forget areas like your neck, face, ears and the tops of your feet and legs (common places for skin cancers to develop). For out-of-the-way areas like your back, enlist the help of another person or use a spray (if you can reach where you spray, rub it in to ensure even coverage). If your hair is thinning, don't forget your scalp—or wear a hat. A wide-brimmed hat can also offer extra protection for your face and neck. Make sure you protect your lips with a lip balm containing an SPF of at least 15.
Use it even on cloudy days. You may not notice the sun on a cloudy day, but the sun's rays do get through the clouds, and you can get burned even if it's not sunny. (That can happen in the winter, too.) Up to 80 percent of the sun's harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin on cloudy days. Be sure to take extra caution when you're around snow, sand and water, because they reflect the sun's rays.
Use it before it expires. Pay attention to the expiration date, which can render your sunscreen less potent or altogether ineffective. Not all sunscreen labels list an expiration date, so toss it after three years. The FDA requires all sunscreens to retain their original strength for this long. If you don't see an expiration date when you buy it, write the date purchased on the label with a permanent marker, so you know when to get rid of it. If your sunscreen has a strange odor, color or consistency, it's likely expired.
Use it even though you think you don't need it. Anyone can get skin cancer—regardless of age, gender or race. Although it's true that you are slightly more at risk if you have light skin and light eyes, even darker-skinned people, who have greater amounts of melanin in their skin and are less susceptible to UV damage, can still get skin cancer. Remember that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Nobody is immune.
Use the right one. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. This will block 97 percent of the sun's UVB rays; keep in mind that no sunscreen can block them 100 percent. Another important thing to remember is that an SPF with a high number does not mean you can spend more time outdoors without reapplying it. ALL sunscreens need to be reapplied about every two hours.