Sunscreen can help lower the risk of skin cancer and prevent premature aging. It’s especially important because skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States — approximately one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
So, with the market flooded with a plethora of options, what one should you buy? First, it should be a broad spectrum sunscreen. This means that the product can protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays, which are both invisible to the eye, but do damage by penetrating through both the atmosphere and different layers of your skin.
Also of note: your sunscreen should be at least SPF 30.The higher SPF, which stands for Sunburn Protection Factor, the better protection you are getting.
Dermatologists also recommend sunscreens that are water-resistant. But it’s important to know water-resistant is not synonymous with water-proof. Regardless of the activity you’re doing, you still need to apply the sunscreen every two to three hours. And, if you’re in the water, sunscreen is water-resistant for 80 minutes at most.
“We counsel people to focus on the proper application of it,” said Dr. Kasia Masterpol, now practicing in Burlington and Woburn. “That is the most important thing when it comes to sunscreen’s functionality, and most people do not apply the volume or frequency that they should.”
Another aspect to evaluate is the list of ingredients in the sun protection products you buy — just as you would at the grocery store, it’s important to pay attention to what is in the many available products.
The chemical compound oxybenzone has made headlines again lately because of its potential to cause cancer in the long run. The Environmental Working Group, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that focuses on environmental research and advocacy, lists oxybenzone as a hormone disrupter.
Yet, if it’s a question of using a sunscreen with oxybenzone or going unprotected, always opt for the sunscreen, Masterpol explained.
“Many other options exist, including the physical blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are extremely effective,” she said. “We have to remember that melanoma kills and that is what we are trying to prevent.
Of course, when going in the sun with infants, take special care to keep them in the shade, while still covering them with clothing, hats and sunglasses. And special UV protective clothing is great not only for kids, but also for adults who are active outside at any time of year.
A final point to remember is that summer isn’t the only season when you need to apply sunscreen. Depending on where you live and how much you’re outside, you might need it throughout the year.
Protect the skin you’re in. If you have more questions about the best sunscreen options for your family, speak with your health care provider.