After this past brutal winter, I don’t think anyone will complain (much) about the heat and sun this summer.  Staying well hydrated and in a cool place are ways to beat the heat. Applying — and reapplying — the right sunscreen is the best way to prevent the skin from being damaged from the sun.

Last summer we looked at the importance of making sure you see a “broad-spectrum” label (one that blocks both UVA and UVB sunlight) on the bottle of sunscreen.  UVA light is more abundant and less intense than UVB light, and has been known for years to cause aging and wrinkling.  Recent studies show that UVA penetrates more deeply into the skin than previously thought, damaging the DNA in skin cells and causing skin cancer.  UVA light penetrates clouds and glass and, unlike UVB, is present whenever it’s daylight, regardless of the season.

Intensity-dependent on the seasonal angle of the sun (peaking from April to October, between 10 AM and 4 PM), UVB light is known for causing tanning, sunburn, damage to cellular DNA, and skin cancer.  The “Sun Protection Factor” (SPF) traditionally relates to protection from UVB light, so make sure what you use specifically says “broad spectrum.”

Consumer Reports recently rated 20 sunscreens and found that only two provided the SPF protection stated on their labels.  (The other 18 came in 4-40% below what the label said!) Deborah Kotz says only seven products were recommended, all with SPF 50 or higher.

The consumer magazine ranked Coppertone Water Babies and Walmart’s Equate SPF 50 highest for lotions in terms of price and protection from UV rays; for sprays, Bull Frog WaterArmor Sport and Target’s Up & Up took the top rating.


Kotz asked two experts what are the biggest mistake people make when using sunscreens:

Assuming that a super-high SPF product will protect us all day is likely the most common reason we get burned. Both experts, as well as the FDA, said products with SPF’s higher than 50 likely don’t offer substantially more protection than those with an SPF of 50. “You really need to re-apply them every two hours or immediately after swimming,” Rangan said. Once your skin doesn’t have that greasy sheen, likely the sunscreen has worn off. Qureshi added that products with an SPF of 15 or under should be applied every hour to keep skin from burning. “The higher SPF products will give you double the time of protection,” he said, and will help protect you a bit more if you don’t slather on as much as recommended.


The Environmental Working Group’s “Sun Safety Campaign” is a terrific resource for all parents wanting to protect their children from the sun’s harmful rays.  Their tips are pretty strict:

  • No Spray Sunscreens (“Given the ease of applying them on squirming kids and hard-to-reach areas, these super-popular aerosolized sunscreens may seem like a dream come true. But they may pose serious inhalation risks. They certainly make it too easy to apply too little or miss a spot.”)
  • No Super-High SPFs (SPF’s above 50 are unnecessary.)
  • No Oxybenzone and Other Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
  • No Retinyl Palmitate (When used in a night cream, this form of vitamin A is supposed to have anti-aging effects. But on sun-exposed skin, retinyl palmitate may speed development of skin tumors and lesions, according to government studies.)
  • No Combined Sunscreen/Bug Repellents
  • No sunscreen towelettes or powders
  • No Tanning Oils


The AAP has some tips on how to apply sunscreen:


  • Use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet, hands, and even backs of the knees. Rub it in well.
  • Put sunscreen on 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. It needs time to absorb into the skin.
  • Use sunscreen any time you or your child spend time outdoors. Remember that you can get sunburn even on cloudy days because up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can get through the clouds. Also, UV rays can bounce back from water, sand, snow, and concrete, so make sure you’re protected.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. Because most people use too little sunscreen, make sure to apply a generous amount.


Be careful out there!