Why wear sunscreen?
Despite recent claims about sunscreen safety, consumers should rest assured that sunscreen products, and specifically the ingredients oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, are safe and effective when used as directed. Claims that these ingredients are unsafe are based on questionable science that is not properly reviewed by experts in the field of photomedicine. Though using sunscreen is a vital sun safety strategy, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended a complete sun protection regimen that includes not only sunscreen use, but also seeking shade, covering up with clothing including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
Sun protection is essential to skin cancer prevention – about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Furthermore, years of scientific research have provided compelling evidence that the daily use of sunscreen helps lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers. Most recently, in a rigorous study of more than 1,600 adults over the course of a decade, researchers determined that subjects applying sunscreen with an SPF of 16 daily reduced their risk of melanoma by 50 percent.
When shopping for sunscreen, consumers should look for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, which is awarded to sun protective products that meet stringent criteria for safety and effectiveness. The Foundation’s volunteer Photobiology Committee – dermatologists with specialized knowledge on how the sun affects skin – review test results of all products which apply for the Seal of Recommendation. The Foundation requires that testing be done on human subjects; it is the only non-governmental organization which reviews scientific testing results for sunscreens.
Our Recommendation for the Best Natural Sunscreen is Coola.
What are sunscreens?
Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin. Two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, damage the skin, age it prematurely, and increase your risk of skin cancer. UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn, while UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, are associated with wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other light-induced effects of aging. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB.
What is SPF?
Most sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher do an excellent job of protecting against UVB. SPF — or Sun Protection Factor — is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. Here's how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer — about five hours.
Another way to look at it is in terms of percentages: SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent. They may seem like negligible differences, but if you are light-sensitive, or have a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a difference. And as you can see, no sunscreen can block all UV rays.
No sunscreen, regardless of strength, should be expected to stay effective longer than two hours without reapplication. “Reddening” of the skin is a reaction to UVB rays alone and tells you little about what UVA damage you may be getting. Plenty of damage can be done without the red flag of sunburn being raised.
Who should use sunscreen?
Anyone over the age of six months should use a sunscreen daily. Even those who work inside are exposed to ultraviolet radiation for brief periods throughout the day, especially if they work near windows, which generally filter out UVB but not UVA rays. Children under the age of six months should not be exposed to the sun, since their skin is highly sensitive to the chemical ingredients in sunscreen as well as to the sun's rays. Shade and protective clothing are the best ways to protect infants from the sun.
What type of sunscreen should I use?
The answer depends on how much sun exposure you're anticipating. In all cases we recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen offering protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Many after-shave lotions and moisturizers have a sunscreen (usually SPF 15 or greater) already in them, and this is sufficient for everyday activities with a few minutes here and there in the sun. However, if you work outside or spend a lot of time outdoors, you need stronger, water-resistant, beachwear-type sunscreen that holds together on your skin. The “water resistant” and “very water resistant” types are also good for hot days or while playing sports, because they're less likely to drip into your eyes when you sweat. However, these sunscreens may not be as good for everyday wear. They are stickier, don't go as well with makeup, and need to be reapplied every two hours.
How much sunscreen should I use and how often should I put it on?
To ensure that you get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you need to apply 1 oz – about a shot glass full. Studies show that most people apply only half to a quarter of that amount, which means the actual SPF they have on their body is lower than advertised. During a long day at the beach, one person should use around one half to one quarter of an 8 oz. bottle. Sunscreens should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully bind to the skin. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so reapply the same amount every two hours. Sunscreens should also be reapplied immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating a great deal.