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Part Three: Sun advice: SPF values and how to apply sunscreen for the best protection

A continuation of our 3 part blog series on sunscreen, The EWG (Environmental Working Group) provides us with some great advice for being the sun, watching SPF values and how to apply sunscreen properly, this summer and always!


Sun advice

The EWG warned consumers to be wary of sunscreens with a very high SPF, or "sunburn protection factor," value. Higher SPF sunscreens (above 50) don't necessarily offer better protection from UV-related skin damage, and consumers who use these products may develop a false sense of security and therefore spend too much time in the sun, EWG said.

"SPF values of 75, 80 or 100 lull Americans into thinking their skin is fully protected from the sun's harmful rays for extended periods of time," David Andrews, an EWG senior scientist, said in the statement. "People tend to misuse these high-SPF products, spending more time in the sun without reapplying, putting them and their families at greater risk of UV damage."

The FDA has proposed capping SPF values at "50+" but the agency hasn't finalized this rule. In 2018, the EWG found 52 products with SPFs of 70 or higher, up from 10 such products in 2007.

The EWG also recommends that consumers avoid sunscreen "sprays," which don't necessarily provide a thick and even coating of sunscreen on the skin. The group noted that the number of spray sunscreens on the market has increased 30 percent since 2007.  Dr. Shannon Trotter, professor of dermatology at the Ohio State University, said spray-on sunscreen is effective if applied properly. "Some people spray it from too far away and only get a mist," she said, "The biggest challenge is to know how you actually use enough to cover all the areas of the body..

You need a volume of one shot-glass–worth of sunscreen to cover the body, and you should apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors. Don't forget the lips, Trotter said.

Sunscreens that spray

Another concern with sprays is toxicity. The FDA is investigating the health risks of accidentally inhaling spray-on sunscreen. Trotter recommended using a lotion for areas near the mouth and using spray for hair-bearing areas where it's difficult to apply a cream.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays, and has an SPF of at least 15. People should check the expiration date, because some sunscreen ingredients might degrade over time or develop bacterial growth. Some lotions sunscreens become more liquid (less viscous) over time and don’t apply as well to the skin, making it harder to leave a sufficient layer of protection.

It's also recommended that people with oily skin or those who are prone to acne use a water-based sunscreen. And people sensitive to para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) should buy brands that do not contain the compound.

The FDA recommends not applying sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old. Instead, babies should be placed in shady areas or covered with clothing.

Finally, the researchers stressed that consumers shouldn't rely solely on sunscreen to protect against skin cancer. People should also cover up with clothing, wear hats and sunglasses, try to stay in the shade, and avoid spending too much time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when its rays are most intense.

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