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Given all the new options, how do you know which is the best sunscreen for you? While choosing the best sunscreen is important, perhaps even more crucial is using it correctly -- something a lot of us don't do, says Henry W. So before you plop down on the lawn chair -- or take the kids to the beach -- here are the sunscreen facts. Finding the Best Sunscreen Sunscreens help shield you from the sun's dangerous ultraviolet UV rays in two ways. Some work by scattering the light, reflecting it away from your body. Others absorb the UV rays before they reach your skin. A few years ago, choosing a good sunscreen meant you just looked for a high sun protection factor SPF -- which rates how well the sunscreen protects against one type of cancer -causing UV ray, ultraviolet B UVB. Research soon showed that ultraviolet A rays UVA also increase skin cancer risk. While UVA rays don't cause sunburn , they penetrate deeply into skin and cause wrinkles. Ingredients with broad-spectrum protection include benzophenones oxybenzone , cinnamates octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate , sulisobenzone, salicylates, titanium dioxide , zinc oxide, avobenzone Parsol and ecamsule Mexoryl SX. If you'd normally burn in 10 minutes, SPF 15 multiplies that by a factor of 15, meaning you could go minutes before burning. But people who have very fair skin, a family history of skin cancer , or conditions like lupus that increase sensitivity to sunlight should consider SPF 30 or higher. Keep in mind that the higher the SPF, the smaller the increased benefit: There is no rating to tell you how good a sunscreen is at blocking UVA rays, says Leffell. So when it comes to UVA protection, you need to pay attention to the ingredients. Look for a sunscreen that contains at least one of the following, Leffell says: Any of those should do the trick. One newly approved ingredient that blocks UVA is ecamsule. Neutrogena's Helioplex isn't really a new ingredient; it's a "stabilized" version of a common UVA-blocker called avobenzone or Parsol Unless it's stabilized, avobenzone breaks down when exposed to sunlight -- exactly what you don't want in a sunscreen. You'll find stabilized avobenzone in other sunscreens, too, like Active Photo Barrier Complex and Dermaplex. Some of the excitement about these new products is advertising hype, says Leffell. For instance, any brand-name sunscreen that has avobenzone is stabilized. But you can get equally good protection for a lot less. Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Old sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide used to make people look pale and ghostly, says Fairbrother. But newer manufacturing techniques have resolved the problem, she says. Water and sweat resistance. If you're going to be exercising or in the water, it's worth getting a sunscreen resistant to water and sweat. But understand what this really means. The FDA defines water resistant sunscreen as meaning that the SPF level stays effective after 40 minutes in the water. Very water resistant means it holds after 80 minutes of swimming. These sunscreens are in no way water-proof, so you'll need to reapply them regularly if you're taking a dip. A brand you like. Even if a brand is recommended by all the experts, if you don't like it, you're not going to use it, says Karrie Fairbrother, RN, president-elect of the Dermatology Nurses Association. Personal preference is really important. The sensitive skin of babies and children is easily irritated by chemicals in adult sunscreens, so avoid sunscreens with para- aminobenzoic acid PABA and benzephenones like dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone. Children's sunscreens use ingredients less likely to irritate the skin, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Unlike chemical ingredients, these protect babies' skin without being absorbed, Fairbrother says. For kids 6 months or older, look for a sunscreen designed for children with an SPF of 15 or higher. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies under 6 months be kept out of the sun altogether. Sunscreen for skin problems or allergies. People who have sensitive skin or skin conditions like rosacea may also benefit from using sunscreens designed for children. Go for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide instead of chemicals like para-aminobenzoic acid PABA , dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone. If you have skin irritation or allergies , avoid sunscreens with alcohol, fragrances, or preservatives. Other sunscreens include moisturizers or other ingredients for people with dry or oily skin. Continued How to Wear Sunscreen While choosing the right sunscreen is important, it won't help much if you don't use it daily and correctly. Use these tips from the experts. Apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go out in the sun. For woman, sunscreen can be applied under makeup. Use about 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons to cover your whole body. Don't forget the easy-to-miss spots, like the tips of your ears, your feet, the back of your legs, and, if you have one, your bald spot. Since your lips can also get sunburned, use a UV-protective lip balm and reapply it regularly, Fairbrother says. No matter how long-lasting it's supposed to be, reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, and more often if you're sweating or getting wet. Pay attention to the expiration date on the bottle. Sunscreen loses its effectiveness over time. Wear sunscreen whenever you're out during the day -- and not only when it's hot and sunny. And during the winter, exposure to the sun's rays still can have damaging effects on your skin. Sunscreen Isn't Enough Some people have the impression that wearing sunscreen makes them fully protected against the sun's rays, Lim tells WebMD. But that's not the case. No sunscreen can do that. No matter how high the SPF, no matter how thickly you slather it on, sunscreen will never fully protect you, experts say. This misunderstanding can be dangerous: Even your clothes may not protect you. So in addition to wearing good sunscreen, you still need to take other precautions: Stay in the shade when possible. Stay inside when UV radiation levels are highest, usually from 10 a. Wear a broad-brimmed hat. Wear sun-protective clothing, preferably with a UVP ultraviolet protection rating on the label. At least wear clothes that are dark and tightly woven, which offer a bit more protection. Sunscreen works, says Leffell. But protecting yourself against ultraviolet rays requires a lot more than sunscreen alone. And remember that with sunscreen, you need to defend yourself against the sun's rays with both UVA and UVB protection. American Academy of Pediatrics: Protecting Your Child from the Sun. Lautenschlager S, The Lancet, May 3, ; published online. Trying to Look SUNsational? Complexity Persists in Using Sunscreens.
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