Your year-round guide to sunscreen


Summer may be coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean our sun protection habits should go dark.

Even on a cloudy day, many of the sun’s rays can still reach us and cause trouble if we’re not protecting our skin. Thankfully, sunscreen can be a huge help.

But just what do we need to know when it comes to choosing, using, and properly applying sunscreen?

Dr. Lorraine Young, co-chief of dermatology clinical services and a clinical professor of medicine at UCLA, explains that there are a few things we should (and shouldn’t) be doing to protect our skin, both in and out of the sun:

Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30+.

“UVA rays have longer wavelengths and go deeper into the skin to cause photoaging, and UVB rays contribute to sunburn and skin cancer” says Dr. Young. “It’s really important to protect against both.”

Choosing broad spectrum sunscreens will provide protection against UVA and UVB rays. It’s also important to make sure that broad spectrum sunscreen has an adequate Sun Protection Factor (SPF); Dr. Young suggests an SPF of 30 and higher.

Stay out of the sun for 20 minutes after you apply it.

There are two main types of sunscreens: chemical (e.g. oxybenzone) and physical (e.g. titanium dioxide and zinc oxide). Both are commonly found where sunscreen is sold, but it’s important to know the differences.

“If you’re using a chemical sunscreen, be aware that some can take 5-20 minutes to take effect,” says Dr. Young. Chemical sunscreen takes a little while to be absorbed into your skin, which means unprotected exposure to the sun for up to 20 minutes.

Use liberally and reapply often.

Many of us use way too little sunscreen. Dr. Young suggests using the shot glass trick: picturing a shot glass and using that much sunscreen with each application.

She also emphasizes that it doesn’t last all day; if you’re in the sun for long periods of time, reapply it every 1.5 to 2 hours – especially if you’re outside from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the period when sun exposure is at its peak.

Remember that sunscreen isn’t perfect.

Sunscreen is only one method of photoprotection.

“The trifecta of sun protection is sunscreen, shade, and sun-protective clothes,” says Dr. Young. “If you’re just using sunscreen, you can’t possibly use enough to get total protection for every area of your skin.”

Sun protection isn’t a season-long phenomenon, and it’s important to protect your skin even on those cloudy days. With these tips, you can make sure you’re staying safe year-round.

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