Get smart about Sunscreen

By itself, sunscreen can not prevent skin cancer, but with proper use, sun protective clothing, hats and swimwear it is largely preventable with an overall sun protection regime.

We now know too much sun exposure can lead to adverse health problems, including skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 1 million diagnosed each year.

So you want to know – what exactly is sunscreen and how does it work?

It protects your skin by absorbing and/or reflecting UVA and UVB rays. More about how Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) affects skin.

Find Today's UV Index For Your City/Town

The FDA requires an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) label on all "topical" cream, gel, sprays, and lotions claiming to block UVB rays sold in the USA. An SPF rating of at least 15 is recommended. You should know that SPF-30 does not provide twice the protection of an SPF-15. Rather SPF-15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, while SPF-30 blocks 97% of the same UVB rays.

While FDA guidelines for SPF rating only apply to UVB rays, many manufacturers include ingredients that protect form UVA rays as well. These are called “broad-spectrum” and are highly recommended.

SPF- the sun protection factor rating system – explained

The history of sunscreen

Its history can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, who were known to rub olive oil on their skin – It surely made their skin soft, but it didn’t do anything to protect it. Historians believe that people from these ancient civilizations tried other organic ointments and potions, including crushed castor seed paste and Jasmine to protect their skin from sunburn.

There really is no clear answer as to who invented the first topical sun protection. There are four scientist from the 1930’s and 1940’s who all contributed to the development and invention of what we now call "sunscreen".

Two of most well known names are Eugene Schueller, founder of L’oreal Cosmetics and Benjamin Green, the creator of Coppertone.

Many people are confused about the proper use and effectiveness of sunblock and lotions.

What is the best way to put on suntan lotion?

Four easy to follow rules

  • Use broad-spectrum products
  • Always put on 20 minutes before going outside.
  • Use at least 2 ounces
  • Reapply every 2 hours

Click here for more great tips on the proper use and application techniques.

Does sunscreen expire?

Yes - They don’t last forever ! In fact they loose some of their effectiveness after one year. If you have any left over bottles from last year and can’t find an expiration date, toss them. Learn more about the effectiveness and expiration dates here.

What are the active ingredients allowed by the FDA for use in sunscreens?

Chemical ingredients include UVA absorbers such as, avobenzone and mexoryl sx. Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), which is rarely used today can cause skin reactions.

Physical ingredients are the compounds titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These reflect both UVA and UVB rays. These are not absorbed into the skin as the chemical ingredients are and as a result; often do not cause allergic skin reactions. A complete list of the 17 ingredients approved by the FDA.

Sunscreens are available in many forms: gels, sprays, lotions and creams to name a few. They are made for sensitive skin, sports, water activities and for children. Find out which types of sun protection is recommended for different activities and skin types here:

Suntan lotion, sun-block, tanning gel, whatever you call it; is not a magic potion to ward off the evil skin cancer, but it is an easy way to reduce the risk. Almost thirty percent of Americans don’t use it and seventy percent only use it occasionally. Using a complete sun protection regime will reduce the risk of skin cancer and improve your skin health.

Stay alive and well with