Are you sunscreen savvy?
If you answered yes, you’re in the minority, because only 14 percent of women wear sunscreen daily, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And if the other 86 percent knew one simple fact—that using an SPF of 15 or higher can reduce the risks of developing skin cancer by 50 percent—we’re willing to bet the number of daily sunscreen-wearing women would be much, much higher.
But even those of us who slather it on daily might not know everything we should about how to best protect our skin today and in the years to come. Here are the facts—do your skin a favor and infuse a little knowledge into your sunscreen regimen:
1. The skin cancer statistics are scary.
The risk of skin cancer isn’t just something our moms said to guilt-trip us into wearing sunscreen—it’s real, and young women are particularly at risk. Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined—and cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have jumped 2.4 percent every single year since 1980 among women.
Women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer. To put it more bluntly, one person dies every hour from melanoma—and a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns. But, as we said above (because it bears repeating!), regular use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen has been shown to reduce the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.
2. Sunscreen prevents skin aging.
You’ve heard this advice before, but did you know it’s scientifically proven? More than 90 percent of the visible changes attributed to skin aging are caused by the sun. But people who use sunscreen daily show 24 percent less skin aging than those who don’t. So slather it on, every day.
3. For the best protection, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s enriched with antioxidants.
The sun’s rays reach us in two different wavelength ranges, and “broad spectrum” means that your sunscreen protects you from both types: UVA (the longer wavelengths) and UVB (the shorter wavelengths). UVB rays are primarily responsible for sunburns, while UVA rays penetrate deeper, causing wrinkles and brown spots. Dermatologists also recommend choosing a sunscreen fortified with antioxidants. For these reasons, we made sure that our new oil-free sunscreen Solace is both broad spectrum SPF 30 and enriched with vitamin E, an antioxidant that combats free radical activity and prevents premature aging.
4. Higher SPF isn’t necessarily safer.
Many believe that the higher the SPF, the more protection you get. But SPF numbers don’t work that way. For example, if you use an SPF 30 sunscreen, that means you can be in the sun for 30 times longer than you can without sunscreen before burning. However, SPF 50 may not actually provide longer hours of protection, especially because the cream is usually washed off or absorbed after two hours. Plus, SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. This is a negligible difference, which is why most doctors now recommend using either SPF 15 or SPF 30 and reapplying at least every two hours—more often (around every 40 minutes) if you’re sweating or swimming.
5. Sunscreen should be applied before you go out in the sun.
For the best protection, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go out, so it has time to soak in. Applying it once you’re already sitting out by the pool means there’s a considerable chunk of time that your skin is unprotected and able to absorb those harmful UVA and UVB rays.
6. You’re probably not wearing enough sunscreen.
To cover all the exposed areas of the body, the recommended amount of sunscreen is 1 ounce: enough to fill a shot glass. Most people only wear a quarter to a half of that amount, leaving themselves prone to burning and skin damage. On days when you only need sunscreen on your face, aim for a teaspoon amount of SPF 30 and apply it all over your face and neck.
7. And you’re probably not applying it everywhere you should.
Melanoma can pop up in some pretty strange places—one of the most common areas is in between the toes, where most people forget to apply sunscreen. Pay close attention to your face, ears, hands, and arms—and don’t forget your lips! Find a lip balm with SPF 15 or higher that you love, so you’ll be more likely to reapply it often. And since you can’t put sunscreen in your eyes, keep them safe under sunglasses. The American National Standards Institute requires that all shades (even the cheap ones) shield against 95 percent of UVB rays and 60 percent of UVA rays.
8. There’s no such thing as “waterproof” sunscreen.
According to the FDA, “water resistant” sunscreen means that it maintains its SPF after 40 minutes in the water, while “very water resistant” can last up to 80 minutes. Anything boasting “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” or “all day” protection is simply not true, and in violation of the FDA regulations. But even very water resistant sunscreen should be reapplied regularly, because sweat, water, and towel drying can remove its protective layer on the skin.
9. Don’t leave your sunscreen baking in your beach bag.
Extreme heat exposure can reduce the potency of sunscreen’s active ingredients, so you should treat your bottle like you would any medication (or your favorite bottle of nail polish), and store it in a cool or room temperature place. The FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for up to three years, so pay attention to the expiration date—and if your bottle doesn’t have one, write the date you purchased it on the bottle, so you don’t forget. You can also look for physical signs, like a change in color or consistency, to see if your sunscreen is still good. If it looks, feels, or smells funky, it’s time to purchase a fresh bottle.
10. Sun risk has its own special weather report.
The intensity of the sun’s rays on any given day will vary by the weather and the location, which is why the EPA issues a daily UV Index forecast, which you can find through your local weather station, the newspaper, or the EPA website. There’s also an app. The higher the UV Index forecast, the stronger the sun will be—and the greater the need for sun protection. When the UV Index is unseasonably high, the EPA will issue a UV alert for your area, and you can sign up for these email alerts here. Generally, mid-day on sunny summer days present the most UV risk (especially in low and high altitudes), but up to 80 percent of UV rays pass through clouds, so it’s important to protect yourself even on cool, cloudy days.
11. Certain foods can promote natural sun protection.
Fruits like watermelon, guava, grapefruit, and tomatoes are high in lycopene, an antioxidant that has been shown to behave like sunscreen from within, reducing the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays. The beta-carotene in carrots and sweet potatoes can help protect you in a similar way, and even dark chocolate (70 percent cacao or higher) has been shown to have a positive effect on your body’s natural sun protection. This doesn’t mean you can skip the sunscreen, but any excuse to eat more dark chocolate is a good excuse, right?
Ready to enjoy some safe fun in the sun? Add a tube of vitamin E-enriched, oil-free, SPF 30 Solace to your beach bag, and enjoy its fresh citrus cent and lightweight, moisturizing feel as it protects your skin. (And don’t forget the dark chocolate!)