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Apply sunscreen and lip balm with SPF even on cool or cloudy days. About 70 to 80 percent of the sun's damaging rays can penetrate through cloudy haze and water.

Sunscreens work in two ways. The chemicals in most sunscreens absorb ultraviolet radiation before it can damage the skin. Some sunscreens block ultraviolet rays by scattering or reflecting them away from the skin. Sunscreen extends the skin's natural protection by a factor of the SPF number. If your skin usually burns in 10 minutes, it won't burn for 150 minutes if you are wearing sunscreen with SPF 15 (10 minutes x SPF 15 = 150 minutes or 2½ hours). Also, that SPF 15 blocks 93% of UV rays. An SPF 50 blocks only 98%. So no matter what, some UV is getting through to the skin. No sunscreen lasts all day or blocks 100% of the sun's UV radiation and sunscreens only provide protection for a limited amount of time.

Make sure to choose broad-spectrum sunscreens for yourself and your family. All sunscreens block UVB, but broad-spectrum sunscreens block UVB and UVA. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow time for the chemicals to be absorbed into the skin. Use water resistant sunscreens that will not be washed off through perspiration, and to be sure you and your family are protected, reapply sunscreen every two hours, and after swimming or sweating.

Finally, recent studies suggest that insect repellents containing DEET (the active ingredient in most insect repellents) may degrade the SPF of sunscreens. If you need to use an insect repellent, consider wearing protective clothing and a hat to maximize your sun protection. If you do use both, apply the sunscreen first to allow it to bond with the skin and then apply the insect repellent over it.

For sunscreen use:


While sunscreen is a valuable sun protection measure when used correctly, no sunscreen lasts all day or blocks all of the sun's harmful rays. Ideally, sunscreen should be used in addition to wearing protective clothing. It should be used to protect against normal sun exposure, not prolong it.

What are the sunscreen regulations the FDA established in June 2011?

The final regulations, which become effective in the summer of 2012, establish a standard test for over-the-counter sunscreen products that will determine which products are allowed to be labeled as "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]." Products that pass this test will provide protection against both ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) and ultraviolet A radiation (UVA).  Scientific data has demonstrated that products that are "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]" have been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging when used with other sun protection measures, in addition to helping prevent sunburn. Other sun protection measures include limiting time in the sun and wearing protective clothing. In order to be labeled "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher], a sunscreen will have to screen a significant portion of UVA spectrum (up to at least 370 nanometers). Also, the amount of UVA protection must increase as the SPF value increases. In contrast, any sunscreen not labeled as "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]" or that has an SPF value between 2 and 14, can only claim to help prevent sunburn.

Beginning in 2012, manufacturers cannot make claims that sunscreens are "waterproof" or "sweatproof, or identify their products as "sunblocks," because no sunscreen blocks 100% of UV.  Also, sunscreens cannot claim protection immediately upon application (for example, "instant protection") or protection for more than two hours without reapplication without submitting data to support these claims and obtaining FDA approval.

In additional proposed rules, the FDA is further proposing that an upper limit for SPF values be set at 50+. This is because there is not sufficient data to show that products with SPF values higher than 50 provide greater protection for users than products with SPF values of 50. 

Following the new FDA regulations, what should I be looking for on labels when I'm shopping for sunscreen?

On the front of the bottle:

On the back of the bottle:

Looking for sun safety products? Click here for a list of companies that sell sunscreen.

Have more questions about sunscreen? Check out Skin Cancer 101 - Sunscreen.


Fast Facts

Most sunscreens expire after two years and should be replaced. If your sunscreen lotion feels gritty, the active ingredients may have come out of the solution.

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