Sunscreen Is Key

Sunscreens protect you from the dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. We used to think that only one type of UV ray, ultraviolet B (UVB), was harmful, but now we know that ultraviolet A (UVA) is harmful, too.

The sun protection factor (SPF) written on sunscreen labels only refers to protection from UVB. UVA doesn’t cause sunburn, but it does increase skin cancer and wrinkle risk. Even on a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of UV rays will come through the clouds.

Most people need sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher for UVB protection. People with more sensitive skin should use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Doubling the SPF doesn’t mean that you have twice the protection. An SPF of 30 is only marginally better than a 15.

Be sure to:

  • Use sunscreen that says “broad sunscreen protection” on the label. It will protect against both UVB rays and UVA rays.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. If you have sensitive skin, use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Reapply often, no matter what the SPF is. The label will tell you how often.
  • Reapply after going into the water. No sunscreen is completely waterproof, even if the label says “waterproof.”

If you have children, be sure to use a sunscreen specifically developed for children. A child’s skin can be extra sensitive to oxybenzone and ovobenzone, ingredients that help provide UVA protection. Adults with very sensitive skin may also benefit from using a child-friendly sunscreen.

Other Sun Protection

Wearing sunscreen is only a part of safe preparation for sun exposure.

It’s also important to:

  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Avoid being in the sun during peak sun hours at midday.
  • Wear a hat, preferably with a brim.
  • Wear light long-sleeve shirts. They also help protect you from that other scourge of New England summers — tick bites.