Media Contact: Ian Demsky

Cutting through the confusion about sunscreen

What you need to know to protect yourself and your loved ones

The July 4 weekend is a time for barbequing, lounging poolside or just goofing off in the backyard. But it’s important to practice good sun safety, stress dermatologists at the University of Michigan Health System.

They offer these tips for protecting yourself and your loved ones, along with guidance to help understand the Food and Drug Administration’s new rules about sunscreen.

One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Babies and young children can't protect themselves from sunburn, so adults must do it for them.

With thousands of products on the market, it can be hard to know how to choose the best sunscreen. Before you start to consider which one to buy, doctors say you should know the following:

• No matter what sunscreen you use, some radiation always gets through to your skin – so using sunscreen alone isn’t enough.

• When possible, avoid peak sun exposure (between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.).

• If you do go out, seek shade and wear protective clothing, including a hat with a brim and sunglasses.

• It’s wise to double up on protection by applying sunscreen as well. Don't forget to protect ears, noses, lips, and the tops of feet.

• Hardly anyone applies enough sunscreen. It takes about a shot glass worth of sunscreen (one ounce) to cover the exposed areas of the body. Slather it on!

• Sunscreens also need to be reapplied every two hours. Or more frequently, if you are swimming, sweating or have toweled off.

• Put on sunscreen 15-30 minutes before sun exposure, regardless of the weather.

• The sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays come in two types: UVA and UVB. Currently, a sunscreen’s SPF (sun protection factor) rating only measures how long it will protect you from UVB rays.

• The American Academy of Dermatology recommends selecting a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, whose ingredients protect against both UVB and UVA.

• Do not use sunscreens on babies six months old or younger. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Cover them with protective clothing and hats when outdoors, and shade them with carrier/stroller covers or umbrellas.

Starting next year, the FDA will require new labeling to help consumers make good choices.

Under those rules, the terms “waterproof” and “sweatproof” will no longer be used. In order to be labeled water-resistant or sweat-resistant, the sunscreen will have to pass FDA tests to prove their claims. The label will also tell how long those effects will last.

The term “sunblock” is also out, since no sunscreen can block all of the sun’s rays.

In the future, the term “broad spectrum” will indicate a level of protection offered from both UVA and UVB rays.

Remember, only broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging – and that’s only if they’re used correctly and in conjunction with other sun protection measures.

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