Sunscreens are products for the skin to protect it from the harmful effects of sunlight exposure. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays inflict damage to the skin, and sunscreens contain ingredients that can help block this exposure. Most sunscreens come in a lotion form that gets rubbed on the skin, though there are also sunscreens sold as gels, sprays and wax sticks.
What to Look for in a Sunscreen
There are a lot of sunscreens on the market, so choosing the right one can be confusing. To simplify the process, the American Academy of Dermatology has three basic recommendations. First, a sunscreen should offer broad-spectrum protection, which means that it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Second, it should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. And third, it should be water resistant.
The SPF of a sunscreen refers to how effective it is at blocking the sun’s harmful UV rays. No sunscreen can block 100 percent of rays, but a sunscreen with SPF 30 will block a higher percentage than a sunscreen with SPF 15. As far as other ingredients, sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide might be useful for children or those with sensitive skin. These ingredients have been shown to be safe and cause less irritation. Sunscreen should not be applied at all to infants 6 months or younger.
The right sunscreen varies from person to person, based on activities and exposure to the sun. For example, people who work outdoors may prefer a strong, beachwear-type sunscreen that is extremely water resistant. But these tend to be stickier and difficult to use with makeup, so they may not be the best choice for everyday wear for some people. Also, sprays are sometimes preferred by parents due to their ease of application, but it’s important to make sure to apply a sufficient amount. Also, sprays should not be applied around the face or mouth due to concerns about inhalation. For these areas, the sunscreen can be sprayed into the hand and then rubbed onto the body.
How to Apply Sunscreen
When it comes to applying sunscreen, everyone should be doing it for every sun exposure, regardless of the amount of exposure or skin color. Also, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, regardless of the strength or type of sunscreen. In addition, other measures should be taken to protect the skin from the sun, like wearing protective hats and clothing and avoiding direct sun exposure during the sunniest portions of the day if possible.
SOURCES: Skin Cancer Foundation; American Academy of Dermatology
Homemade sunscreen offers very little protection from the sun's damaging UV rays.
Sunscreen may protect the skin's blood vessels.