How to Buy Sunscreen

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Buy Sunscreen
Buy Sunscreen

By now, most of us know that the sun can be harmful. The best protection is to shield yourself with clothing, a hat and glasses whenever possible. Since this isn't always practical, you need to have some sun protection lotion. The trick then is buying the correct stuff, having it on hand, and remembering to apply it.

Know the difference between a sunscreen and a sunblock. A sunscreen is any product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or less. An SPF of 15 means it will take 15 times longer for you to burn with the sunscreen than without. A sunblock has an SPF of 30 or more.

Use a sunblock with SPF 30 or higher if you're fair-skinned, at high altitude, near the equator or outside on a hot, sunny day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Protect your kids, too: Over the course of their life, most of the sun's damage to their skin will happen before they're 18. Lighter-skinned people need more protection.

Make sure that your sunscreen is labeled "broad spectrum" to protect against both UVA (ultraviolet-A) and UVB (ultraviolet-B) rays. Ultraviolet radiation at high doses increases your risk of basal-cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma.

Know what protection you're getting. A sunscreen with SPF 15 gives you 94 to 95 percent UVB coverage; SPF 28 bumps you up to about 96 percent coverage.

Buy zinc oxide or titanium oxide (or dioxide) to protect your ears, nose and lips if you're in the sun for prolonged periods daily. These opaque, chemical-free sunblocks are ideal for sensitive skin. A new product called Z-Cote offers zinc-oxide protection that's transparent, so you can avoid the white-nosed lifeguard look.

Get water-resistant or waterproof sunscreen if you'll be swimming or sweating.

Look for PABA-free, fragrance-free and hypoallergenic sunscreen if you're allergic to certain skin products. Do a test patch on your skin to confirm whether a sunscreen is truly allergy-free.

Select a sunscreen that is noncomedogenic, which means it won't block pores, if you're prone to breaking out.

Choose between lotions, gels, ointments, wax sticks and sprays based on your personal preference. Wax sticks are handy for lips. Sprays get the job done quickly on squirmy kids.

Apply sunscreen liberally 30 minutes prior to exposure. Most people need at least 1 oz. of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass, to cover their body. Reapply every two hours, or more often if you get wet or sweat profusely.

Tips & Warnings

  • UVB rays cause sunburns. UVA rays create wrinkles and premature aging. Studies suggest that both rays contribute to cancerous growths.
  • There is no proof that sunscreen prevents skin cancer. Your safest bet is to minimize sun exposure during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Wear a wide-brimmed hat, UV-blocking sunglasses and tightly woven clothes if you are outside.
  • There is no such thing as "safe tanning." Tanning salons expose your skin to harmful UV rays. If you burn easily but must have that golden look, use a sunless tanning lotion or foam.
  • Do not use sunscreen on infants under 6 months of age; keep them covered and out of the sun instead.

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