Is your sunscreen doing what it should, and are you?


A study published in the JAMA Dermatology last week found that 4 out of 10 sunscreens don’t meet the sun safety guidelines of the American Academy of Dermatology, regardless of their price. The biggest problem – the sunscreens didn’t meet even the minimal 40 minute water and sweat resistant criteria.

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In order for a sunscreen to protect our skin from the damaging effects of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the Skin Cancer Foundation  (SCF) it should be:

  • Broad spectrum:  This means the sunscreen contains ingredients to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. To protect against UVA, it should contain a combination of some of these: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule, and oxybenzone. 
  • SPF 30 - 50: SPF – Skin protection factor, is length of time a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays. An SPF of 30 theoretically will allow you to stay in the sun 30 times longer without burning than you would otherwise. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation,  an SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, an SPF 30 blocks about 97%, SPF 50 blocks about 98%. Above that, there is no real advantage.
  • Water resistant:  This means the sunscreen will stay on wet or sweaty skin for a short time before you need to reapply. If the product is water resistant, it must state for how long, 40 or 80 minutes. If it doesn’t include this information on the label, then it isn’t water resistant, not all sunscreens are.

If your sunscreen meets all of the above criteria, it still won’t do you much good if it’s not used correctly.  To properly apply sunscreen:

  • Use at least two tablespoons (one ounce) to cover the entire body, including the face head and lips

Because facial skin is thin and exposed, it is particularly important to apply sunscreen there liberally. If you are hesitant to use the same sunscreen for both your body and face, many facial moisturizing creams contain sunscreen.

If you have thinning hair or are bald, apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a hat.

Use a lip balm with SPF 15 for your lips and reapply regularly.      

  • Apply it one-half hour before going outside.

It takes at least 15 minutes for the skin to absorb it.
Rub it thoroughly into the skin
Use spray sunscreen for hard to reach areas.

  • Re-apply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.

    Sunscreen breaks down in the sun and is washed or rubbed away with sweat or
    during swimming

Many sunscreens have an expiration date which is typically two to three years. To keep yours good for next summer, store it in a cool place, since heat gradually breaks it down. (SCF, 2016,  AAD, 2016)

For more information…

Skin Cancer Foundation

Guide to sunscreens

American Academy of Dermatology
              General information

               Video - How to apply sunscreen - about-skin-cancer/prevent/how-to-apply-sunscreen

Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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