Sun Protection and Sunscreens

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What is sun protection?

Sun protection is simply guarding a body from the adverse effects of sunlight. Aside from the hazards of heat, the sun poses the danger of sunburn, which can permanently damage the skin and cause skin cancer, precancerous changes in the skin, as well as premature wrinkling and signs of aging. Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun is a known risk factor for the development of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers.

How is sunburn best prevented?

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The best ways to avoid sunburn are to do the following:

  • Limit time in the sun, especially between peak sunlight hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing, including
    • a broad-brimmed hat,
    • a shirt with sleeves that cover the arms,
    • a long skirt or pants with long legs.
  • Use a protective sunscreen to minimize the penetration of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming or perspiring heavily.

What is sunscreen?

Sunscreen is any substance or material that protects the skin from UV radiation. Sunscreens are available in the forms of topical lotion, cream, ointment, gel, or spray that can be applied to the skin; a salve or stick that can be applied to the lips, nose, and eyelids; a moistener in towelettes that can be rubbed against the skin; sunglasses that protect the eyes; certain types of sun-protection clothing; and film screen that can be affixed to the windows of a car, room, or office. Many facial moisturizers and cosmetics products also offer some degree of sun protection.


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Sunscreen - Tips for Reapplying Question: Please share suggestions for reapplying sunscreen, like after swimming or perspiring.
Sunscreen - Sunburn Prevention Question: Please share tips for preventing sunburn.
Sunscreen - Best Types Question: What type or brand of sunscreen do you use? Do you know if it's a broad-spectrum product?
Sunscreen - Sunburns in Winter Question: Have you ever gotten sunburned in winter? Describe what happened and how you will prevent it next time.
Find out how to choose the best sunscreen.

Making Sense of Sunscreen Products

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD

Most people are understandably confused when it comes to choosing a sunscreen because of the baffling array of available choices. Common questions about sunscreens include

  • How high should the SPF be?
  • Should it block UVA or UVB?
  • Does it matter whether it is a gel, cream, or spray?
  • Should it be water-resistant or waterproof?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF numbers on a product can range from as low as 2 to as high as 60. These numbers refer to the product's ability to screen or block out the sun's burning rays. The SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce sunburnon protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin. The higher the SPF, the greater the sun protection. However, it is a common mistake to assume that the duration of effectiveness of a sunscreen can be calculated simply by multiplying the SPF by the length of time it takes for him or her to suffer a burn without sunscreen, because the amount of sun exposure a person receives is dependent upon more than just the length of time spent in the sun. The amount of sun exposure depends upon a number of factors including the length of exposure, time of day, geographic location, and weather conditions.

Picture of a sunburn

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