Sunscreens and What You Need to Know About Them

applying sunscreen to shoulder

Sunscreens protect the skin from damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted from the sun. Active ingredients contained in sunscreen when applied on the skin absorb, scatter, or reflect the UV radiation like a force field. These ingredients prevent the sun’s harmful rays from attacking the skin.  This is what helps prevent sunburn and reduces the risk of skin cancer.

applying sunscreen to shoulder

Broad Spectrum Sunscreens

Sunscreens that are labelled “Broad Spectrum” and contain a minimum value SPF 15 (Sun Protection Factor) or higher when used as directed with other sun protection measures are effective to help prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer.  A sunscreen can be labeled “Broad Spectrum” if it provides UV protection across both the UVB and UVA wavelength ranges.  A product that is not “Broad Spectrum” or has an SPF value lower than 15 will only help to prevent sunburn.  A water-resistant product is more helpful when engaging in outdoor activities that include water sports.

What do SPF Numbers Mean?

The number following SPF will tell you how long it takes before you burn when using that product.  Suppose it normally takes about 10 minutes of exposure before you get sunburned.  Instead, if you use a sunscreen with SPF 30, you could remain in the sun for 300 minutes (5 hours) before getting burned.

Factors to Take into Consideration When Using Sunscreen

  • Skin Type counts. Although all skin types and tones can burn, people who have pale skin and light-colored hair, and persons who have been treated for skin cancer or precancerous lesions are more vulnerable and should be liberal with their use of sunscreen.
  • Application Habits make a difference. The FDA recommends that you apply sunscreen 15 minutes prior to going out into the sun.  Reapplication should happen every 2 hours.  If you are sweating or engaging in water activities, reapply more often and with a water-resistant product.  Water-resistant products must be labelled and denote whether the time of protection is 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating.  By law these products must also be labelled whether they are waterproof or sweat proof.

The American Cancer Society Recommends:

  • You do not use a tanning bed.
  • Remain in a shady place between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Wear clothing that will protect you against damaging rays. There is a great selection of clothing and hats that are both fashionable and functional.  When riding my Harley across the Nevada desert in the blazing sun and 112 degree heat, I wore a fly fishing long-sleeved shirt from Orvis.  It provides SPF 50 sun protection, is light and looks good.  UV protective sunglasses are also a must.
  • Apply a “Broad Spectrum” sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more on a daily basis, even if it is cloudy out. I use a serum made by Avene which is SPF 50.  It is light, non-greasy and perfect for men and can be applied under foundation for women.
  • Reapply sunscreen immediately after emerging from water or when wiping off sweat.

Common Ingredients Found in Sunscreens

The following is a list of ingredients commonly found in sunscreens with links to a few facts about them.  If you have questions about which sunscreen is right for you, speak with your dermatologist or your local pharmacist.  They will be happy to answer your questions and concerns in order to keep your skin looking good and out of harm’s way.


Color Additives



Glyceryl Stearate

Mineral Oil

PEG-30 Glyceryl Cocoate

PEG-30 Hydrogenated Castor Oil



Stearalkonium Hectorite

Titanium Dioxide

UV Filter Ingredients


Zinc Oxide

Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate

It’s summer and we all want to be outside and have fun.  Be smart and be safe…use your sunscreen!

American Academy of Dermatology: Sunscreen 101: Dermatologists answer burning questions about sunscreens

Skin Cancer Foundation: Prevention Guidelines

American Cancer Society Infographic: Don’t Fry Preventing Skin Cancer

American Cancer Society Fact Sheet: UV Radiation and Cancer

Marie Claire: 4 Myths About Sunscreen That You Definitely Believe Are True


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