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Sunscreen: what is SPF anyway?

Time to head to the store for sunscreen, but first check last year’s bottle from your cupboard. Dr. Lawrence Gibson from Mayo Clinic reports that most are stable after three years provided they aren’t in high temperatures. So, check for expiration dates. But really…if you are applying it correctly there should not be much left over from last year. Adults should apply about one ounce each time and reapply after 3-4 hours. Don’t confuse sunscreen with sun tan lotions.

Sunscreens protect against UVA and UVB rays. The broad spectrum sunscreens will protect you from both. The UVB rays penetrate deep through layers and cause those wrinkles later, and they can even suppress your immune system. UVA  rays burn your skin. Ouch!

The SPF and its numbers get confusing. SPF is sun protection factor, and it determines how long it takes to sunburn skin with sunscreen compared to without sunscreen. SPF of 15 allows 1/15th of sun rays to get through versus no sunscreen, so it extends sun exposure without burning. You would think the higher the number the better, but if applied every 3-4 hours the 15 should protect you. Most doctors generally recommend SPF 30 for fair skinned people, blondes and redheads, both children and adults. Purchasing a sunscreen with SPF of 60 does not double your protection.

Your protection comes in applying generously and evenly to exposed areas 20-30 minutes before being in the sun, and reapplying after 3-4 hours.  Also remember to reapply after swimming or profusely sweating. Waterproof sunscreen comes off after 30 minutes in the  water. Try and avoid the sun between hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the sun rays are most intense. Also, you do get burned on those overcast days! The sun rays get through the clouds and glass windows too. Protect yourself!

Make sure you use sunscreen to protect babies 6 months and older. Be sure to apply to those vulnerable sun areas such as tops of ears, nose, cheeks and shoulders. Babies under 6 months should not be in direct sunlight. Keep them in shade as much as possible, wearing wide brimmed hats and long thin sleeves. Avoid combination sunscreen-insect repellent products especially with DEET. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied, repellant not as often.

So let’s get outside and have a great summer and enjoy the sunshine! Just don’t underestimate the damage the sun can cause.


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