Ingredients matter. Does your sunscreen leave you overexposed to damaging UVA rays? Does it break down in the sun? Does it contain compounds that may disrupt your hormones?
Check your skin regularly for new moles that are tender or growing. Ask your primary care doctor how often you should see a dermatologist.
The best defenses against getting too much harmful UV radiation are protective clothing, shade and timing. Our checklist:
– Don’t get burned. Red, sore, blistered or peeling skin means far too much sun – and raises your skin cancer risk.
– Wear clothes. Shirts, hats, shorts and pants provide the best protection from UV rays – and they don’t coat your skin with goop.
Find shade – or make it. Picnic under a tree, read beneath an umbrella, take a canopy to the beach. Keep infants in the shade – they lack the tanning pigments known as melanin to protect their skin.
Plan around the sun. Go outdoors in early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is lower. UV radiation peaks at midday.
Sunglasses aren’t just a fashion accessory. Good shades protect your eyes from UV radiation that causes cataracts.
Some sunscreens prevent sunburn but not other types of skin damage. Make sure yours offers broad spectrum protection.
Don’t fall for high SPF labels. Anything higher than SPF 50+ can tempt you to stay in the sun too long. Even if you don’t burn, your skin may be damaged. Stick to SPFs between 15 and 50+. Pick a product based on your own skin coloration, time outside, shade and cloud cover. Reapply often.
News about vitamin A. Eating vitamin A-laden vegetables is good for you, but spreading vitamin A on your skin may not be. Government data show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with creams laced with vitamin A, also called retinyl palmitate or retinol. It’s in one-fourth of all sunscreens reviewed by EWG. Avoid any sun product whose label says retinyl palmitate, retinol or vitamin A.
Ingredients matter. Avoid the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and can disrupt the hormone system. Look for active ingredients zinc oxide, avobenzone and Mexoryl SX. They protect skin from harmful UVA radiation.
No insect repellent. If you need bug repellent, buy it separately and apply it first.
Pick a good sunscreen. EWG’s sunscreen database rates the safety and efficacy of about 1,400 SPF-rated products, including about 750 sunscreens for beach and sports use. We give high ratings to brands that provide broad spectrum, long-lasting protection with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns when absorbed by the body.
Cream or spray? Cream, because sprays cloud the air with tiny particles that may not be safe to breathe. Reapply cream often. Sunscreen chemicals sometimes degrade in the sun, wash off or rub off on towels and clothing.
No powder! The FDA treats powdered sunscreens as unapproved new drugs and may take enforcement action against companies that sell them – except for small businesses, which can sell powders until December 2013.
Message for men: Wear sunscreen. In 2009, nearly twice as many American men died from melanoma as women. Surveys show that 34 percent of men wear sunscreens, compared to 78 percent of women. Reduce your cumulative lifetime exposure to damaging UV radiation.
Got your vitamin D? Many people don’t get enough vitamin D, a hormone manufactured by the skin in the presence of sunlight. Your doctor can test your level and recommend supplements if you are low in this vital nutrient.
Kids are more vulnerable to sun damage. A few blistering sunburns in childhood can double a person’s lifetime chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer. The best sunscreen is a hat and shirt. After that, protect kids with a sunscreen that’s effective and safe.
Take these special precautions with infants and children:
Infants under six months should be kept out of direct sun as much as possible. Their skin is not yet protected by melanin. So when you take your baby outside:
Toddlers and children
Sunscreens are an essential part of a day in the sun. But young children’s skin is especially sensitive to chemical allergens – as well as the sun’s UV rays.
Sun safety at school
Sometimes school and daycare policies interfere with children’s sun safety. Many schools treat sunscreen as a medicine and require written permission to use it on a child. Some insist that the school nurse apply it. Some ban hats and sunglasses. Here are a few questions to ask your school:
Teenagers coveting bronzed skin are likely to sunbathe, patronize tanning salons or buy self-tanning products – all bad ideas. Researchers believe that increasing UV exposure may have caused the marked increase in melanoma incidence noted among women born after 1965. Tanning parlors expose the skin to as much as 15 times more UV radiation than the sun and likely contribute to the melanoma increase. Many chemicals in self-tanning products have not been tested for safety; dihydroxyacetone, a self-tanning chemical most frequently found in these products, is not approved by the FDA for use around the eyes.
To parents of teens: Be good role models – let your teen see that you protect yourself from the sun. Tan does not mean healthy.