Selecting the right sunscreen

Summer is finally here and you’re planning a great day outside enjoying it. It doesn’t matter if it is an afternoon lunch on the deck with friends, a family day at the beach or just chilling in your back yard. You need to protect your skin from the sun.

Why do we need to use sunscreen? Prolonged exposure to the sun exposes our skin to UltraViolet (UV) rays or radiation. These can cause sunburn, premature skin aging, skin spots, melanoma and skin cancer. Sunscreen creates a barrier to prevent the UV rays from reaching and damaging our skin.

But not all sunscreens are created equal, nor does the price or marvelous packaging equate to the quality of the product. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a sunscreen:

* SPF – this is the Sun Protection Factor. The higher the number the longer the amount of time you can theoretically spend in the sun. However this length of time is approximate. So a sunscreen with an SPF of 20 means you could stay out in the sun 20 times longer without incurring sun damage (sunburn) than you could if you were outside without a sunscreen. However keep in mind that everyone’s skin is different. If you have fair skin that time frame may be shorter than someone who does not sunburn as quickly.
* You must apply sunscreen at least 15-30 minutes BEFORE going out in the sun for it to work effectively
* You need to reapply sunscreen frequently, every few hours. If you’re really active or in the water you’ll need to reapply more frequently.
* How safe is the sunscreen for your skin? If you have allergies or sensitive skin you need to be more careful in your selection of the products you use.

A good site to check for safe sunscreen products is the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide. This site lists product ingredients you should look for and those to avoid.

And if you do get a sunburn? Cool the burn with cool or cold, but not ice cold water for up to 30 minutes. Avoid putting lotions, salves, ointments or creams on the burn for at least a day to allow your skin to breathe and heal.

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