With skin cancer being the most common cancer in the United States1, you're probably wondering what the best way to protect yourself is. While keeping yourself out of the sun by seeking shade is always the best protection, who wants to spend all of your time indoors? Here are some recommendations to protect yourself from the sun.
Pairing sunscreen with accessories
Shade options include wearing a hat, preferably one with a large brim that covers both your face and the back of your neck.2 If you wear a hat that doesn't cover the back of your neck or your ears, make sure you wear sunscreen on your exposed parts! Dark colored hats may protect you from the sun a little better, but remember, they will also get warmer more quickly.
UV blocking umbrellas and clothing are another option for protecting yourself from the sun.2 These are both great options for people who are sensitive to the chemicals in sunscreen. Most SPF umbrellas can also work as a typical rain umbrella, and patio and beach umbrellas also great protection from the sun. Wearing clothing is probably your best protection from the sun.3 Look for clothes with UV protection (SPF 15 and above), or those with darker colors and tighter weaves. Remember, wet clothing (without a UV rating) is less sun protective than dry clothing, and wear sunscreen on any body parts that are left exposed.2
Sunglasses are also important for protecting yourself from the sun. Glasses that offer UVA and UVB protection will protect your eyes from long-term damage, such as an increased risk of cataracts, but can also protect the skin around your eyes from sunburn.2
How sunscreen works and should be used
For those who don't find wearing a lot of clothes in the summer to be a feasible option, you should definitely be wearing sunscreen! SPF is found on every sunscreen, and stands for "Sun Protection Factor". It refers to the level of protection that the sunscreen gives you. An SPF of 15 means that you can be in the sun 15 times longer before burning, so if you burn within one minute of being exposed to the sun, you will burn in 15 minutes if you wear an SPF of 15.1 The CDC recommends wearing at least an SPF of 152, but don't be fooled into thinking that wearing a very high SPF (over 50) will make you safer in the sun for too. Even high SPFs still need to be used properly to ensure that they do their job.
Make sure you shake your sunscreen before applying it, and use it liberally.4 The general rule is a shot glass full of sunscreen for your body. It can be helpful to put sunscreen on before putting on a bathing suit, so you don't miss the areas where the bathing suit and your body meet. Be sure to reapply at least every two hours, and more often if you are swimming or sweating a lot.2 Double check your sunscreen's expiration date, and make sure you are replacing it every 1-2 years, as it doesn't work as well after being exposed to high temperatures.2
Consumer reports: best lotion sunscreens
So what are the best sunscreens to buy? The fine folks at Consumer Reports tested and ranked 73 different sunscreens to help us pick the best ones.5
At the top of their list of lotion sunscreens is "La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk". This is a more expensive lotion (about $27 for 5 oz.) but had a 100 rating. Coming in second is "Equate (Walmart) Sport Lotion SPF 50 sunscreen" with a 99 rating. This option is considerably more affordable (about $6 for 8 oz.), while still doing an excellent job of protecting you from the sun when used correctly.
Runners up include:
- BullFrog Land Sport Quik Gel SPF 50 sunscreen (Rating- 95; about $22 for 5 oz.)
- Coppertone WaterBabies SPF 50 Lotion sunscreen (Rating- 95; about $8 for 3 oz.)
- Coppertone Ultra Guard SPF 70 Lotion sunscreen (Rating- 94; about $9 for 8 oz.)
- Equate (Walmart) Ultra Protection Lotion SPF 50 sunscreen (Rating- 92; about $13 for 16 oz.)
Ranking the lowest were the mineral-based lotions, mostly because they offered minimal UVB protection, and because they did not match their SPF ratings.5
Consumer reports: best spray sunscreens
Of the spray sunscreens5, the top performer is "Trader Joe's Spray SPF 50+ sunscreen" with a 100 rating. This sunscreen is affordable at about $6 for 5 oz.
- Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist Spray SPF 50+ sunscreen (Rating- 96; about $16 for 5 oz.)
- CVS Health Beach Guard Clear Spray SPF 70 sunscreen (Rating- 90; about $10 for 6.5 oz.)
Be aware, the FDA is currently investigating the safety of spray sunscreens.4 If you choose to use them, do so carefully and avoid inhaling the fumes. Do not spray them directly on your face or onto children, rather, spray them into your hands and apply them to your face or the child.
One final note: While the mineral-based sunscreens did not rank high in the Consumer Reports list, they are the most environmentally friendly sunscreens. These are the least damaging to coral reefs and other ocean wildlife. The Environmental Working Group recommends these if you are going to an area where there may be coral reefs.6 If you choose to use these sunscreens, please make sure you are using them as directed, and applying and reapplying them liberally.
Now that you know how to protect yourself, go out, enjoy the summer and have fun in the sun (but not for too long!).
Are you concerned about skin cancer when the weather gets colder?