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Stumped by Sunscreen? How to Choose and Apply Your SPF

Jun 29, 2011 at 3:00 PM Chime in now

Sunscreen

Southern Stock/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Everything you need to know about the sometimes befuddling beauty product

By KRISTIN LARSON

By now, everyone knows they’re supposed to wear sunscreen every day, especially in the summer, when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. But choosing the right sunscreen can be confusing, between all the lotions, sprays and wipes in SPFs 15, 30 - even 75!

To help make it easier, the Food and Drug Administration recently created new rules to better describe sunscreens, which go into effect next year. In the meantime, we asked skincare experts for advice on taking the guesswork out of choosing and applying sunscreen, ensuring you’re properly covered this summer and beyond.

When to Apply
Don’t wait for the sun to wear sunscreen. “Sunscreen should be applied 365 days a year,” says Dennis Gross, a renowned New York City-based dermatologist with his own skincare and sun protection line. Look for “broad spectrum sunscreens. This means they offer protection against UVA and UVB rays, which are both detrimental to skin.”

How to Apply
Look for sunscreens that are water-resistant, and apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading outdoors, says Arash Akhavan, a dermatologist whose office is located in Manhattan. “Approximately one to two ounces (or one or two shot glass-sized amounts) of sunscreen should be applied to the entire body and rubbed in very well,” he says. “Reapply every time you get out of the water and after every one-and-a-half-hours of sun exposure.”

Picking Your Protection Factor
Choose a SPF of 30 or more - but within reason. “SPF values of greater than 50 do not necessarily provide greater protection against skin cancer and are likely unnecessary,” says Akhavan. “The FDA is actually now considering limiting the labeling of sunscreens to SPF 50+ for all SPF values greater than 50 because there is insufficient data that values greater than 50 give any increased protection.”

So how do you choose the right SPF number to make sure you’re covered? Gross explains what coverage you get with each number.

“A SPF 15 blocks out 92 percent of the sun’s rays. An SPF 30 blocks out 96 percent, and an SPF 45 or higher blocks out 97 percent. But it is doubtful that SPF 45 is really more effective than SPF 30,” Gross says. “SPF 30, however, offers significantly more protection than SPF 15. While a 4 percent increase in protection may not seem like a lot, to your body it is, and the difference between an SPF 15 and SPF 30 is huge.”

Lotions, Liquids and Wipes - Oh My!
Sunscreens come in many forms such as lotions, liquids, sprays and wipes, and the form of sunscreen you choose comes down to a matter of preference.

“The key is finding a sunscreen you love, so that you will continue to reapply it throughout the day and want to wear it every day," Gross says. "The more you enjoy a sun product, the more likely you are to use it often - and that is the most important goal."

Read More:
Suncreen for Pregnant Women: Guidelines
 


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