Protecting Yourself Against Sun Exposure

By: Neel Patel, Pharm. D.

With the upcoming summer months approaching, understanding different products of sunscreen can help protect against excessive sun exposure. Proper knowledge of the vast sunscreen products and common terms are a prerequisite to selecting the best product. Sunscreen products found over the counter may be labeled as “broad spectrum” and/or “sun protection factor (SPF)”. The term broad spectrum implies that it protects against both ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation and ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation. Both UVA and UVB can cause sunburn (primarily UVB), skin cancer, and premature skin aging. The term sun protection factor or SPF is used to measure the extent of sunscreen protection against UVB rays, and does not measure protection against UVA rays. Under new regulations all products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage will be labeled “Broad Spectrum” and “SPF” 15 or higher on the front. In contrast, products that are labeled as broad spectrum and SPF values between 2 and 14 have only proven to show protection against sunburn. In fact, these particular sunscreens will be labeled with a warning “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert”. Some products available have water resistant capabilities as well, not to be confused with waterproof. It is important to note the label on how long you can expect to use the product with the extent of the SPF, usually a value between 40 – 80 minutes.

Some key factors to remember are:

  • Use sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF values of 15 or greater
  • Limit the amount of sun exposure as much as possible with peak sun exposure times between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Wear appropriate clothing when applicable i.e. long sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and hats.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours and more frequently if sweating or in and out of water