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Questions & Answers About Sunscreens

What’s the difference between sunscreen product formulations?

There are many formulations of sunscreens: creams, gels, lotions, oils, sprays, sticks, mousses, oils, pastes, etc. You can choose the formulation that you find suitable for you, taking into consideration the following advices: Use Gel formulations for a skin that is more oily &/or for more hairy areas. Use the spray for wet skin. Avoid inhaling sunscreen sprays. Sprays should not be applied directly to the face or head but rather sprayed onto hands and then spread onto the face. Some sunscreen sprays (e.g., those containing alcohol) are flammable. Open flames and sources of ignition should be avoided by those who have applied these sprays Use the cream or oil for dry skin. Use the cream for the face, and sticks for areas around the eyes.

What do the various terms on sunscreen labels mean?

 SPF (sun protection factor):  SPF describes the amount of UVB protection (i.e.,protection against sunburn) that a sunscreen provides. SPF values are not related to time but rather to the amount of UV exposure. UV exposure is harder to judge (compared to time) as it depends on the time of day, cloud cover, amount of sunscreen applied, etc.  In general, the higher the SPF, the better the protection against sunburn.

Broad spectrum:  UVB rays cause sunburn, and UVA rays cause cancer and early skin aging. Broad-spectrum sunscreens have proven effectiveness against both UVA and UVB radiation. Sunscreens that are not broad spectrum are labeled as being able to help prevent sunburn, but NOT skin cancer or early skin aging.

Water resistant:  Terms such as “waterproof” and “sweat proof” are not permitted on sunscreen labeling. The correct terminology is “water resistant,” and the label must indicate whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while a person is swimming or sweating.

What’s the best sun protection for infants?

Keep infants under six months out of direct sunlight. Use lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs and brimmed hats to protect them from sun. Health Canada does not recommend use of sunscreen on infants under six months. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a small amount of sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) may be applied to limited areas of infants under six months if there is no way to avoid the sun. Physical sunscreens (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) and those labeled for use in children may be less irritating for the skin, therefore more preferred.

How much sunscreen should generally be applied on?

Apply sunscreen generously to all exposed skin. Most people apply only one-quarter to one-half of the commended amount. The average sized adult should apply a total of about 1 to 1.5 ounces (two to three tablespoons), or about a handful of sunscreen per full-body application. This works out to about one teaspoon (per body part) to face/scalp &each arm, and two teaspoons (per body part) to torso and each leg.

What if a sunscreen and insect repellent are both needed?

Use separate sunscreen and insect repellent products. Sunscreen must be applied more frequently. Apply sunscreen first, then the insect repellent about 30 minutes later

What’s the best general advice on sun protection?

Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 or 30. Limit time in the sun, especially between 10 AM and 2 PM when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Apply sunscreen every morning to face, neck, and hands. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, as well as right after sweating or swimming. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure for the best effectiveness. Protect the skin from the sun with long-sleeved shirts, pants, and broad-brimmed hats. Use a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher to protect the lips from sun damage. Use a sunscreen that is labeled broad spectrum to ensure coverage of both UVA and UVB rays. Find a formulation that is easy to apply and feels good on the skin (to improve compliance).