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Phoenix Forward

7 things you need to know about sunscreen

Stay safe in the sun

It’s summertime, which means you’ll be spending more time outside in the sunshine with friends and family. Sure, you wear sunscreen, but it’s important to understand the products on the market and the new FDA regulations to ensure that you and your loved ones are truly protected. Here, seven things you need to know before having fun in the sun:


Understand the new FDA regulations.

Beginning in summer 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established new sunscreen regulations. “These regulations make it easier for consumers to understand what they’re buying,” says Vicki Greenberg, a family nurse practitioner and nursing program manager at the University of Phoenix Southern California Campus.

“For example, sunscreens will no longer list SPF levels higher than 50, because there’s no proof that higher SPFs protect our skin any better,” she explains.


Use “broad spectrum” protection.

Prior to the new FDA regulations, not all sunscreens protected against both UVA and UVB sun exposure, according to Greenberg. “We used to place priority on UVB rays, because that’s what causes sunburn,” she says. “But UVA rays are the main cause of premature aging and skin cancer, so it’s important we protect against both.” Sunscreens with SPF factors of 15 and higher that are also labeled “broad spectrum” provide protection against both types of sun exposure.


Wear sunscreen every day.

Think you don’t need sunscreen on cloudy days? Think again. “More than 40 percent of UVA and UVB rays still get through on cloudy, overcast days,” Greenberg says. She recommends that everyone get in the habit of putting sunscreen on all exposed skin — especially the face, neck, ears and hands, which are at higher risk for developing skin cancer — every single day.


Apply enough sunscreen, and apply it often.

Sunscreen must be applied properly to do its job, Greenberg says. “You need to use at least 1 ounce of sunscreen with every application,” she explains. “Most people don’t use enough.”

Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours during sun exposure, and more often if you’re swimming or exercising, according to Greenberg. “Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes prior to exposure so it can be fully absorbed,” she says.


Be aware of the altitude.

Your surroundings and activity can affect your amount of sun exposure. “Most people don’t realize that you get more sun exposure at higher altitudes,” Greenberg explains. “For every additional 1,000 feet in altitude, UVA/UVB exposure increases by 4 percent.” In addition, reflective surfaces such as water or snow amplify the sun’s rays, requiring more sun protection.


Avoid tanning.

“There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ tan,” Greenberg emphasizes. Suntan lotions and oils with SPF factors below 15 do not provide adequate protection and should not be used, while tanning beds are dangerous, she says. “If you want to look tan, use self-tanning lotions or temporary spray tans instead.”


Know the risk factors.

Not everyone can wear sunscreen safely. “Children younger than 6 months of age should not wear sunscreen, and some people are sensitive to PABA, the active ingredient in many sunscreens,” Greenberg explains. She recommends that people with allergies and pregnant women do a skin-patch test ahead of time, or stay out of the sun altogether.

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