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How to Get the Most Out of Your Sunscreen

by Georgia Collings

Summer is here! Bright, beautiful days and stormy afternoons have arrived, and it’s the perfect time to head out for a day at the beach, a lunchtime barbecue in the park or just a lazy stroll by the water. Across the country people are whipping out swim suits and blowing up pool toys for some fun in the sun. Unfortunately, we live in a country with one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world. Across the country, doctors are doing more than 100 skin cancer treatments an hour, and the majority of us will have a skin cancer removed or treated at some point in our lives. There’s an easy way to prevent the nasty damage that the sun’s rays can do though, and that’s lather up, and cover up. I.e put on your sunscreen, and wear protective clothing. We all know this, it’s been drilled into us since we were kids that sunscreen is a vital part of our routine if we’re headed outdoors. But how do we get the most out of our sunscreen, and stay as protected as possible?

1. Sunscreen expires!

Yes, you read that right. Sunscreen expires. That dusty tube in the cupboard that hasn’t seen the light of day since last summer is probably expired. The regulations in place at the moment say that sunscreen should last for at least three years, and must have an expiration date printed on it. Generally, after that expiration date sunscreen becomes less effective. If the salt and sand has rubbed the expiration date off and the bottle is older, throw it away and get a new one, just to be safe.

2. Look for broad spectrum

There are TWO types of rays that damage our skin. UVA rays, which prematurely age our skin, causing fine lines, wrinkles and age spots and UVB rays which burn our skin and can cause cancers. Make sure your sunscreen is broad spectrum and protects against both of these rays.

3. Choose lotion over spray

Sunscreen sprays may seem convenient, but they are notoriously unreliable and may leave you with a patchy sunburn, as they don’t tend to apply as evenly as a lotion. It’s also not great to be inhaling the aerosol sunscreen as it’s sprayed – that can bring on asthma attacks and general irritation to airways.

4. Apply and Reapply

When you apply sunscreen, the average adult body requires about a shot glass full to be totally covered. Don’t shy away from looking a little white and sunscreen every exposed inch to ensure you don’t end up with a nasty burn. Additionally, reapply your sunscreen every two hours or after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Even water resistant sunscreen eventually washes away while swimming. Try not to wipe your face too much either, as the notorious pink nose and cheek burn comes from wiping off your sunscreen. If in doubt, reapply. There’s no such thing as “too much” sunscreen.

5. Choose a high SPF

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and the higher the SPF, the longer it takes to burn. For day to day wear and SPF 15-25 is okay, but for a day in the sun, look for SPF 50 creams as they’ll protect you the most effectively.

6. Sunscreen EVERY day

We all know that a day at the beach or pool warrants lathering up, but what we don’t think about is all the incidental sun exposure we get. Walking to the bus, having our lunch break in the park, playing outside at recess, watering the garden, walking the dog… all of these instances and more expose us to harmful UVA and UVB radiation, even on cloudy days. A high SPF sunscreen should become a part of everyone’s daily routine. There are plenty of sunscreens that are gentle, hypoallergenic and soak into the skin completely without leaving grease or shine. There are even anti-acne sunscreens available if you find regular creams clog your pores! So there’s no excuse to skip the SPF. Additionally, a huge percentage of skin cancer cases come from people who work in the sun – think builders, delivery people and athletes – who aren’t using an SPF regularly. Every single person, regardless of their jobs, needs to be lathering up every day.

So now that we’re aware of HOW to wear our sunscreen, we need to choose one. A recent release from the FDA has declared that chemical-based sunscreens (such as those containing oxybenzone and avobenzone as the active ingredient) are not safe or effective and require more research. However mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide have been declared safe and effective. Zinc oxide sunscreens provide excellent sun protection AND accelerate wound healing and skin regeneration. So they’re your best bet when lathering up this summer.

Remember to always wear your sunscreen and stay safe!

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