What’s the truth about sunscreen safety? Tips from doctors and scientists revealed some surprising facts.
There’s nothing like a good sunburn to ruin a summer afternoon. One minute you’re basking in the warmth by the pool, and the next you’re trying desperately to avoid contact with anything and everything. Even putting on clothes is a painful reminder that our skin isn’t happy.
At the same time, we need that fresh air and sunshine to rejuvenate and energize us. The best way to get that outdoor time without a burn is to use sunscreen. Safety tips for sun exposure aren’t always clear, though. Is SPF 45 that much better than SPF 30? For that matter, what is SPF? How often do you need to reapply?
We took a look beyond the advertising to find out what doctors and scientists think about sun safety. Some of the hot facts we discovered were surprising.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to put these sunscreen safety tips into action.
1. You do need some sun exposure.
Sun exposure helps our bodies create vitamin D, which in turn is essential for the absorption of calcium, the mineral that helps build strong bones and assists in muscle contractions.
2. But too much sun exposure can cause skin cancer.
According to Kids Health, the ultraviolet light from the sun can burn your skin, leading to skin damage and skin cancer, which is why…
3. Yes, you do need sunscreen.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) points out that anyone, regardless of age, race, or gender, is susceptible to skin cancer. What kind of sunscreen do you need, though?
4. Use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen.
A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA (ultraviolet A) are the long-wave rays that contribute to skin aging and cumulative damage, and the Skin Cancer Foundation notes that some research attributes cancer-causing damage to UVA exposure, as well. UVB (ultraviolet B) are the short-wave rays primarily responsible for sunburn. They’re also a significant contributor to the development of skin cancer.
5. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor.” An SPF of 15 means that it will take 15 times longer for you to get sunburn than without any sun protection at all. Some organizations, such as the AAD, recommend a minimum SPF of 30, especially if you’re going to be in the sun for any length of time.
6. Go high, but not too high.
A higher SPF isn’t always better, according to Dr. Steven Q. Wang, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New Jersey. He points out that most people don’t apply the recommended amount of sunscreen, and “consequently, the actual SPF they achieve is approximately 1/3 of the labeled value.” So applying a lower-SPF sunscreen correctly could give you more protection than incorrectly applying a higher-SPF sunscreen. He also notes that the increase in UVB protection is minimal once you get above SPF 50.
7. Use the right amount.
So what is the recommended amount? Both the AAD and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend using one ounce of sunscreen, applied 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. It doesn’t matter what kind of sunscreen you use (spray-on or lotion). What’s most important is that you thoroughly cover any exposed skin.
8. Don’t skip the lips.
Use a lip balm that offers sun protection and re-apply regularly. Your eyes can get a sunburn, too, and while you can’t put sunscreen on your eyes, you can wear sunglasses with UV protection. While you’re at it, don’t skip any other exposed skin either. (Did you get the tips of your ears? The top of your feet?)
9. There’s no such thing as waterproof sunblock.
There is, however, water-resistant sunblock. Lab testing rates the water resistance of sunscreen for either 40 or 80 minutes.
10. Reapply anyway.
Despite high SPFs or water-resistance, the AAD, the Skin Cancer Foundation, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration all recommend reapplying sunscreen every two hours or after you swim.
11. Use caution with sunscreen on infants.
The AAD recommends avoiding sunscreen on infants under 6 months old. Instead, limit their sun exposure and dress them in long sleeves, pants, hats, and sunglasses, while making sure they have plenty of fluids and don’t get overheated. For kids over that age, sunscreens that are made especially for children may be less irritating to their more sensitive skin.
12. Sunscreen isn’t just for the beach.
Any time you are in the sun, it’s worth thinking about sunscreen. Safety tips for sun exposure apply whether you’re in the midst of your summer vacation or you're taking in an afternoon ball game. In fact, on a bright, sunny day, your skin could begin burning in as little as 10 or 15 minutes.
13. Sunscreen isn’t your only sunscreen.
It’s hard to find shade at the beach or on a boat, but when you’re lounging by the pool or spending a leisurely afternoon at a cookout, try to find some shade. If the kids are playing in the backyard, steer them toward less sunny areas. Swim shirts are a good option, too. Look for clothing that has a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of 50 or higher. Hats are good, too, and when you’re trying to get the perfect grill marks on that burger, you’ll need to keep the sun out of your eyes anyway.
14. Be prepared for sunburn.
Ideally, you’ll never have to worry about treating a sunburn. But if you do, there are a few ways to take care of the burn.
- Take a cool (not cold) bath or apply a damp washcloth or compress to the burn to help relieve some of the pain.
- Use a non-petroleum-based moisturizer to help soothe and heal your skin (Petroleum can trap heat. Avoid benzocaine, as well, due to the possibility of skin irritation). Aloe is excellent for nourishing and healing the skin.
- Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve inflammation. (Do NOT give aspirin to children.)
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
15. Know when to see a doctor.
Sometimes, you just can’t treat a sunburn at home. The Mayo Clinic recommends calling your doctor if you or your children have any of these symptoms:
- Severe sunburn with blisters on any substantial portion of the body
- A sunburn with nausea, chills, fever, headache, severe pain, confusion, or dehydration
- A sunburn accompanied by a skin infection
While you protect your skin from sunburn, let Pekin Insurance protect your home. Call your local Pekin Insurance agent today to find out more about our home insurance solutions.