As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, many families head outdoors to enjoy the summer. Being outside is a great way to get exercise, destress, and spend time with family. Being outside also means that you should protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Exposure to the sun is the most common cause of skin cancer, and anyone, no matter their skin tone, can get skin cancer. It’s important to prepare for sun protection every day, even if you aren’t planning on being outside for long. The sun can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes, and one bad sunburn in childhood doubles the risk of skin cancer later in life.
Fortunately, taking proactive sun protection steps, like wearing a hat, sitting in the shade, and always wearing sunscreen, can prevent most skin cancers. Sunscreen is a non-prescription drug intended to protect skin from harmful rays. You should not use DIY sunscreen or sun protection products that the FDA has not approved. Choosing the right sunscreen for your family is important. Our doctors have shared tips and recommendations to help you make sense of all the language on a sunscreen bottle.
Be sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen
Broad-spectrum sunscreens provide sun protection from both UVA (aging) rays and UVB (burning) rays. All sunscreen products protect against UVB rays. Broad-spectrum sunscreen also protects against UVA rays (suntans). Broad-spectrum sunscreen can prevent:
- Skin cancer
- Early skin damage (premature age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin)
Any sunscreen that isn’t broad spectrum must have a warning that it only protects against sunburn.
Look for SPF 30 or higher
SPF stands for sun protection factor. You can also think of SPF as sunburn protection factor. The SPF number measures approximately how long a person can be in the sun before UVB rays begin to burn their skin.
For example, if your skin starts to redden in 15 minutes with no sunscreen, an SPF 30 will theoretically allow you to stay in the sun 30 times longer without getting burned. This math is based on average data, and the estimate can change based on time of day, time of year, weather conditions, your skin, and how well you’ve applied the sunscreen.
Most doctors recommend at least SPF 30 for outdoor activities. When SPF 30 is applied correctly, it will protect your skin from about 96% of the UV rays that cause sunburn. A higher SPF number provides more protection from sunburns, but no sunscreen can protect your skin 100%.