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Since both UVB and UVA rays contribute to skin cancer and skin aging, sunscreen labeling laws have been updated to provide information about both of these damaging forms of sunlight. Prior to these labeling changes, information only pertained to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. Sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB radiation and have an SPF of 15 or higher are labeled “broad spectrum.”
Putting on sunscreen before spending time under the summer sun is a no-brainer for most of us, like brushing our teeth or wearing our seat belts. But just because you’ve slathered yourself with sunscreen doesn’t mean you’re home free. For the best skin defense, you need to make informed choices.
When choosing sunscreen products, consider the SPF (sun protection factor), a measure of the time it would take a person to burn in the sun without sunscreen vs. the time it would take them to burn with sunscreen.
Remember that sunscreen isn’t just for beach days. “In my experience, those showing signs of premature aging have not consistently used sunscreen,” says Peggy Humphries, a licensed esthetician in Santa Cruz, California, who specializes in premature aging, sun damage, and acne. “The single best way to prevent photo-aging is to consistently use a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher every single day, rain or shine.”
Sunscreens are primarily chemical or mineral. Both filter out harmful UV light; the main difference is that chemical sunscreens absorb it, while mineral sunscreens reflect it. Choose a chemical sunscreen if:
Choose a mineral sunscreen if:
Whichever product you choose, make sure it protects from UVA radiation (the kind that causes aging and skin cancer) in addition to UVB.
One factor that can affect SPF is how well the sunscreen stays on, even after you’ve broken a sweat or gone swimming.