As temperatures increase in spring, so does our time outdoors. And because the sun isn’t blazing hot yet, it’s easy to forget that our skin still needs protection from its rays. Here’s what you need to know to prevent UV damage—for yourself and all those you love—as we head into the sunny seasons.
The negative effects of sun exposure are cumulative. That means 20 minutes a day during lunch is equivalent to a couple of consecutive hours, even if you don’t burn. And it’s not a myth: UV exposure can be up to 40 percent stronger on cloudy days, as the rays bounce off the clouds and spread. (For daily data, check the UV index, determined by the National Weather Service; download the EPA’s SunWise app at iTunes or Google Play.) To protect yourself, apply sunscreen daily, year-round, and reapply every two hours. Your morning lotion will have worn off by lunchtime.
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The safest sunscreens use minerals—zinc oxide or titanium dioxide—that reflect rays away from skin. Experts differ on the safety of chemical sunscreens, though, some of which may disrupt hormones (the most concerning ingredients are oxybenzone and octinoxate, according to the Environmental Working Group). But chemical sunscreen is better than no sunscreen, argues the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). The AAD recommends a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that says “broad spectrum” on the label. Broad-spectrum products block both UVB and UVA rays. UVB rays cause sunburn, UVA penetrates more deeply, and both contribute to photoaging and skin cancer.
Light-skinned people are at a higher risk for skin cancer, but darker-skinned people aren’t immune. Experts recommend that everyone slather daily. For kids and babies, opt for mineral sunscreens; research presented in the Journal of Pediatrics Review suggests that little ones may be more susceptible to negative effects of chemical sunscreens because their metabolic systems are less developed and they have a high surface area to body mass ratio.