The sun sustains life and feels good, but it can be your skin’s worst enemy. While every sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer, it’s not just those big days at the beach or ballgame that cause trouble. Each time you run out to get the mail, walk the dog or commute to work without sun protection also adds to the damage that can lead to skin cancer (as well as leathery skin, dark spots and wrinkles).
“Sunscreen is an important line of defense from harmful ultraviolet radiation,” said Anat Lebow, M.D., of Lebow Dermatology, in New York. “To protect your skin, remember to reapply sunscreen every couple hours — especially after sweating, swimming or toweling off. The sun protection factor, or SPF, provides information about how much UV radiation it takes to burn the skin, mostly describing ultraviolet B radiation. I recommend broad-band SPF protection that includes protection against the harmful UVA rays. as well.”
Sunscreen is only one tool in the sun safety toolbox – it can help protect the skin from sun damage but should never be a person’s only line of defense.
Proper sun protection includes protective clothing, like a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, and shade.
Here are more tips for choosing better sunscreens and staying safe in the sun:
- Avoid products with oxybenzone, which is absorbed through the skin in large amounts and can affect hormone levels.
- Stay away from vitamin A in sunscreens. Government studies link the use of retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, to the formation of skin tumors and lesions when it’s applied to sun-exposed skin.
- Steer clear of sunscreens with SPF values above 50+, which may not give increased UVA protection and can fool people into thinking they’re safe from sun damage.
- Avoid sprays. These popular products make it difficult to apply an adequate and even coating on skin, especially in windy conditions. They also pose inhalation concerns.
- Avoid intense sun exposure during peak hours for sun exposure, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Check products against EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens and avoid those with harmful additives.
Shoppers on the go can download EWG’s Healthy Living App to get ratings and safety information on sunscreens and other personal care products. EWG’s sunscreen label decoder can also help consumers looking for safer sunscreens.