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Summer is now upon us and there is no easier and better way to protect your skin from the harmful sun’s rays than sunscreens. Sunscreens are important tools in the fight against skin cancer since 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer in their lifetime. With this in mind the question most commonly asked then is “what is the best sunscreen to get?” The truth is there is probably no perfect sunscreen or single best sunblock, but newer formulations are providing better and better protection and labeling of products is more consumer friendly and easier to understand.

First, let’s discuss briefly important terms as they relate to sunlight. There are two types of wavelengths of light that damage the skin, UVA and UVB. While you can’t see them, these energies are the ones that do the damage. UVA, present all year round has two effects: tanning and aging. In addition, we now also know that UVA suppresses the immune response of the skin, thereby making it more susceptible to skin cancer. UVB, in North America is a problem during the summer months and causes sunburns and skin cancers.

So how do you pick a good sunscreen? The American Academy of Dermatology recommends consumers choose a sunscreen which states on the label: SPF 30 or higher. It’s important to note that an SPF 30 blocks 97% of UV rays and anything higher can block slightly more, but no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays. In this regard, a high SPF sunscreen should still be reapplied every 2 hours when outdoors and after swimming or sweating. Secondly, a product should provide protection against both UVA and UVB, in order words have “broad spectrum” coverage. Thirdly, the label should have “water resistant” for up to 40 to 80 minutes. Sunscreens can no longer claim to be waterproof or sweatproof.

Lastly, sunscreens must be properly applied! The recommendation is one ounce of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body. For best results, a sunscreen should be applied 30-60 minutes before going outdoors.

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