The best protection under the sun

June 26, 2018

It is finally summer—and Americans are leaving their homes in droves to enjoy the balmy temperatures and sunshine in their backyards, parks, pools, and beaches. Most of us feel that moderate exposure to sun improves our health, appearance, and mood. But we also know that too much of a good thing can be dangerous—causing everything from skin rashes to sunburns, to sun poisoning to cancer. So why is it that so few of us use sunscreen when we are out and about?

Indeed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, fewer than 15% of men and 30% of women report applying sunscreen to their faces and other exposed skin when they leave the house (or the office) for more than an hour. Women are more likely than men to apply sunscreen to their faces, in order to avoid the aging effects of too much sun—–perhaps accounting for their greater usage.

Sunscreen use is particularly low among men, non-Hispanic blacks, people with less sun-sensitive skin, those who do not get the recommended amount of weekly aerobic physical activity, and people with lower incomes (under $60,000), the CDC reports.

Another demographic that is likely to skimp on sunscreen is teenagers. Following a study by William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, in 2011, lead researcher Corey Basch, an associate professor in the school’s Department of Public Health, commented, “Unfortunately we found a decrease in the overall percentage of teens who reported wearing sunscreen—[down] from 67.7% in 2001 to 56.1% in 2011.

And even when they do look for sunscreen, many Americans don’t know which type really is best for them. According to the Food and Drug Administration , that would be “broad spectrum” brands that protect against both ultraviolet A and B radiation with an SPF of 30 or higher. UVA rays are believed to be responsible for the aging and wrinkling of skin; UVB rays are the culprit that causes cancer.

That seems easy enough, but, the CDC again has some bad news for us: Nearly 40% of sunscreen users were unsure if their sunscreen provided broad-spectrum protection.

Top brands

For those who could use some help with their choices, Consumer Reports ranks commercially available sunscreens each year. According to the researchers at Consumer’s Union, the following products scored 81 or higher overall and were rated excellent or very good for UVA and UVB protection:

  • La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk SPF 60 ($36, or $7.20 an ounce, score of 100);
  • Equate Sport Lotion SPF 50 ($5, or 63 cents an ounce, score of 99; and
  • BullFrog Land Sport Quik Gel SPF 50 ($8.50, or $1.70 cents an ounce, score of 95).

The magazine also rated the top spray and stick sunscreens—two of which rated highly:

  • Trader Joe’s Spray SPF 50+ ($6, or $1 an ounce, score of 100); and
  • Up & Up (Target) Kids Sunscreen Stick SPF 55 ($8, or $6.67 an ounce, score of 85).

Among natural sunscreens, California Kids #Supersensitive Lotion SPF 30+ scored highest. It received an overall score of 55 and costs $20 a package, or $6.90 an ounce.

The report recommends against using sprays on kids until researchers know more about the dangers of inhaling them. If you do use them, Consumer Reports suggest spraying the solution onto your hand, then rubbing it into your skin.

Application tips

Among the recommendations for applying such products are the following, according to the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Apply sunscreen generously 15 minutes before going outdoors;
  • Use enough—at least one ounce for an adult (about the amount you can hold in your palm) to fully cover your body;.
  • Remember your neck, face, ears, tops of your feet, and legs;
  • Use a balm with an SPF of at least 15 for your lips; and
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.

Finally, using sunscreen should not be your only defense against the sun. For the best protection, the experts  says, stay in the shade and wear protective clothing, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses, as well as sunscreen.

Research contact: 1-800-CDC-INFO

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