May 11, 2015
We're shedding light on summer sun protection. Take the quiz and get answers to your burning questions about sunscreen, sunburns, beach umbrellas and more.
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How much sunscreen is enough for one application?
For adequate coverage, slather on two tablespoons. That’s equivalent to one ounce, enough to fill a shot glass or about two and a half of those restaurant creamers that come with your morning coffee. Most people use just one-fourth to one-half that amount.
Wearing sunscreen means you can stay in the sun as long as you want if you reapply.
Wearing sunscreen every day can slash your risk for developing melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. But experts worry that sunscreens give people a false sense of security. No sunscreen blocks 100 percent of the sun’s rays, says the American Academy of Dermatology. Stay out of the brightest sun and don't forget to cover up.
It takes this long for a sunburn to show up:
Red and painful skin, the first evidence that you stayed too long in the sun, usually shows up two to six hours after sun exposure. But it may take up to 48 hours for sunburn’s full effects, including blisters and extreme pain. Cool compresses can help. So can a light moisturizing cream if you don't have blisters. Skip petroleum jelly, which traps heat.
Beach umbrellas provide good sun protection.
Slather up before you relax with a book. Researchers from Spain’s University of Valencia report that a canvas beach umbrella blocks about 66 percent of the sun’s UV radiation; 34 percent will still reach your skin, mostly from sunlight reflected from the sand or water streaming in from the sides. Nylon beach umbrellas may block even less sun.
SPF 50 or more protects better than SPF 30.
An SPF 30 sunscreen blocks about 97 percent of the sun’s UV-B radiation, while an SPF 50 or higher blocks about 98 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. That tiny improvement could actually increase your risk for sun damage if it gives you a false sense of security and you stay in the sun longer or reapply less frequently.
Wearing a T-shirt over your bathing suit adds good sun protection
The classic white T shirt has a measly SPF of 7, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. When wet, the SPF drops to 3. Heavy, dark, tightly-woven fabrics are better, but too hot for summer wear. Consider clothing made with SPF-treated fabric with a “UPF” (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of 25 to 50. These can block 96 to 98 percent of UV rays. Or wash UPF-30 protection into your own clothes with a UPF laundry additive.
You can stay in the sun 30 times longer if you wear SPF 30.
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) numbers are meant to indicate how many times longer it takes to burn compared to not wearing sunscreen. For example, if your unprotected skin normally burns after 10 minutes outdoors, an SPF 15 product would let you stay outdoors for 150 minutes. But your real margin of safety is much smaller; the intensity of the sun’s rays, your own susceptibility to sun damage, how much sunscreen you used and factors like sweat and water all reduce the effectiveness of sunscreen.
"Water resistant" is a meaningless claim.
Actually, "water resistant" does mean something. Sunscreen manufacturers are no longer allowed to claim their products are “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” because they aren't. But by FDA rules, water-resistant products must last for 40 or 80 minutes when wet.
If you haven't gotten wet, how often should you reapply sunscreen?
For best protection, it’s important to slather yourself every two hours, skin-health experts agree. If you’ve been perspiring or got wet, re-apply sooner. In a 2012 survey of 4,837 people published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, just one in five followed this important advice.
When should you put on sunscreen?
There’s a reason the directions suggest applying sunscreen early. It takes about 15 minutes for sun-filtering ingredients to be absorbed by your skin and begin protecting you. But few of us do it. In one informal survey of 135 New York State beach-goers by Consumers Union, the group found that 60 percent didn’t slather on sun protection ahead of time.
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