New Sunscreen Labels Decoded

If you’re out in the sun playing tennis or golf, jogging or cycling, you need to protect your skin from the damaging ultraviolet rays.

Newly revised sunscreen labels should make it easier for you to make a smart choice on which products to use.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that labels must provide information about whether a sunscreen will protect against skin cancer in addition to sunburn, and will also have to indicate whether a sunscreen is water-resistant, which is what you want if you’re exercising outside.

To reduce your risk of skin cancer and early aging, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with the following features listed on the label:

Broad spectrum, which means the sunscreen protects against ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.

A sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

SPF 15 is the FDA’s minimum recommendation for protection, but the academy recommends an SPF of at least 30.

Water-resistant for up to either 40 or 80 minutes.

This means the sunscreen provides protection while swimming or sweating for the length of time listed on the label.

Available sunscreen options include lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks, and sprays.

Creams are best for dry skin and the face.

Gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest.

Sticks are good to use around the eyes.

Sunscreen should be applied liberally, and should be reapplied every 2 hours and after swimming or excessive sweating, according to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention.

Dermatologists recommend the equivalent of a shot glass full of sunscreen per application.

Sunscreens that are not water resistant must include a direction instructing consumers to use a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.

Karthik Krishnamurthy, DO, chief dermatology consultant with the Melanoma Program at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care, offers the following tips for the summer season:

Give skin the once-over.

Just one full-body skin check by a physician can be a lifesaver.

Additionally, monthly self-exams from the top of the head to the soles of the feet are highly effective in detecting early warning signs of melanoma, such as a mole that looks different.

“I remind patients of the ‘ABCDE’ rule to detect changes in a mole: A is for asymmetry, B is for border, C is for color, D is for diameter, and E is for evolving,” says Krishnamurthy.

“Any suspicious-looking moles or moles that have changed shape or color should be looked at by a physician as soon as possible.”

Know your risk.

Just one blistering sunburn, even in childhood, is enough to substantially increase your lifelong risk for melanoma.

Other risks include frequent sunbathing or indoor tanning, and a family history of melanoma.

“Fair-skinned individuals with red or blond hair and light-colored eyes are also at higher risk,” says Krishnamurthy.

Don’t assume darker skin makes you immune.

A survey of 1,000 Hispanic adults in New York and Miami conducted by Krishnamurthy showed alarming misconceptions about perceived risk.

Nearly half believed those with darker skin cannot get skin cancer.

“This is very concerning because although melanoma is less common in darker-skinned individuals, there is a higher risk of late diagnosis with advanced melanomas and lower survival rates,” he says.

Another way to prevent skin cancer is to wear protective clothing, such as a broad-brimmed hat to protect the back of the neck and ears, which are highly susceptible areas.

Darker clothes and hats block more dangerous ultraviolet rays than light-colored ones, but you have to balance out heat problems.

A light-colored cotton shirt has an SPF of about 8.

The bottom line: choose the best sunscreen for you and use it early and often to protect your skin before you head out to play your chosen sport.

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