Don't Get Burned: What You Need to Know About Sunscreen

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GET OUT OF THE SHADE

With all the sunscreen on the market, it can be overwhelming not only to choose the best sunscreen but also to apply the product correctly and lower the risk of sun damage -- including skin cancer. Here are a few things you need to know about how sunscreen works, good practices to adopt, and what's really in your sunscreen.

Related: 16 Effective Sunscreens That Will Leave You With Money to Burn

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HOW DOES SUNLIGHT CAUSE SO MUCH DAMAGE?

The sun emits ultraviolet radiation that is invisible to the naked eye. Both UVA and UVB rays reach the Earth and are responsible for the damaging effects of the sun, including sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.
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WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UVA AND UVB?

UVB rays are to blame for sunburn, but that doesn't mean UVA rays are less harmful. It penetrates the skin more deeply and can cause wrinkling and premature aging. Both can cause skin cancer. Dermatologists recommend using "broad spectrum" sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays.
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WHEN SHOULD YOU APPLY SUNSCREEN?

Sunscreen should be applied around 15 to 30 minutes before exposure for maximum effect. This allows the sunscreen enough time to properly bind to the skin and do its job.
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HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU USE?

Apply enough sunscreen to generously cover all exposed skin. For most adults, this is about 1 ounce -- enough to fill a shot glass.
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WHAT IS SPF?

The sun protection factor indicates how long sunscreened skin can be exposed to sunlight before burning compared with unprotected skin. For example, if your skin starts to burn after 10 minutes in the sun, SPF 30 sunscreen allows 30 times as much exposure, or five hours without burning -- but don't wait that long to reapply.
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HOW OFTEN SHOULD SUNSCREEN BE REAPPLIED?

Applying sunscreen isn't a one-and-done activity. It must be reapplied at least every two hours while you're exposed to the sun. It should also be reapplied after swimming or sweating, which might be more often.
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WHAT SPF IS THE BEST?

Dermatologists recommend sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to get 97 percent protection from the sun's damaging rays. While SPF 50 may sound better, it provides only a 1 percent increase in protection.
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WHAT INGREDIENTS SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?

In addition to a container marked "broad spectrum," specific ingredients to scan for include PABA derivatives, salicylates, and/or cinnamates that absorb UVB; benzophenones (such as oxybenzone and sulisobenzone) that work against shorter-wavelength UVA; and avobenzone, ecamsule, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide for the remaining UVA spectrum.
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DOES WATER-RESISTANT SUNSCREEN REALLY WORK?

Under FDA rules, sunscreens can no longer be labeled "waterproof." Instead, the label "water resistant" should indicate if the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes in the water. Although these sunscreens do work in the water, their effectiveness wears off quickly. Choose an 80-minute sunscreen for the best protection.
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IS A SPRAY AS GOOD AS A LOTION?

Spray sunscreen can be adequate as long as enough is applied to the skin. Unfortunately, it can be hard to get full coverage. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends spraying it into the hands, then applying to the body. Spray sunscreen can be dangerous to inhale, so take extreme caution to avoid fumes for adults as well as children.
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HOW DOES SUN-PROTECTIVE CLOTHING WORK?

Sun-protective clothing blocks most UV rays from passing through the garment. Clothing designed specifically for this purpose, including swimwear and everyday apparel, has an ultraviolet protection factor. Look for items with a UPF rating of 50 or higher.
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DOES ALTITUDE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

The higher the altitude, the more intense the sunlight. For every 1,000 feet above sea level, UV radiation exposure increases 4 to 5 percent. Even on cloudy winter days, sunscreen should be a top priority for outdoor play.
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DOES WATER, SNOW, OR SAND MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Water, snow, and sand all reflect UV rays, which can not only increase overall UV exposure but may expose skin that isn't protected, such as the underside of the chin. Athletes who train outdoors, even in winter, are at increased risk of skin cancer and should apply sunscreen frequently.
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DOES THE EXPIRATION DATE MATTER?

The expiration date on sunscreen does matter. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends throwing out sunscreen that's past its expiration date. If there is no expiration date, write the date of purchase on the container, and consider tossing any unused sunscreen after three years.
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DOES IT MATTER WHERE SUNSCREEN IS STORED?

Sunscreen that has been sitting in the sun or inside a hot car will likely lose some potency, while sunscreen kept in a cool, dry place could be effective for up to 10 years. If possible, keep it inside or in the shade when outdoors.