Column: What to know about sun protection

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By Anthony Russo, BS, PharmD, RPh, pharmacy team leader, Carmel Market District

Central Indiana has faced rain and cool weather throughout May, and local residents are ready to make way for sunshine and warmer temperatures. With so many options available, the process of selecting sunscreen can often be confusing. As you try to make the best selection from a crowded shelf, it is important to understand some key facts about sunscreen.

The term “broad-spectrum” means the product has passed tests that prove it protects against both types of ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB), which can cause sunburn and contribute to skin aging and skin cancer.

The term SPF means “sun protection factor,” and is calculated based on how long it takes to sunburn skin that has been treated with the sunscreen as compared to skin with no sunscreen. For example, if you normally burn in five minutes of sunlight and are using an SPF 15 sunscreen, you would be protected for up to 75 minutes.

Only products with an SPF 15 or higher are considered “protective” by the FDA. Products with SPF 2 to 14 are only considered “helpful” and must carry a skin cancer warning.

There has been limited data to suggest that SPF greater than 50 is more beneficial than SPF 50 itself.

Manufacturers are unable to label a product as “waterproof,” “sweat proof,” or as a “sun block.” They can, however, claim it to be “resistant” to water and sweat, but must state for how long.

Remember, choosing the right product is only half the battle. It is also crucial to follow proper sunscreen application techniques and other preventative behaviors:

  • Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going into the sun.
  • Use a liberal amount of sunscreen, coating your body evenly.
  • Reapply every two hours – even if using a “water resistant” product – or more often if jumping in and out of the water, exercising or sweating.
  • Lotion, cream or spray? All forms of sunscreen are effective as long they are labeled as “broad-spectrum” and display the SPF.
  • When possible, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when it is most intense.
  • Wear clothing to cover your skin.

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