How to Save Your Money While Saving Your Skin

I keep a bottle of sunscreen in the glove compartment of my car. I have another behind the mirror in the bathroom. A third is in the bag under the seat of my bicycle. A fourth is under the kitchen sink for “emergencies.”

I live less than a mile from the beach in sunny South Florida, yet I haven’t spent an entire afternoon in the South Florida sun since 1982.

That was the year I got skin cancer. Because I douse myself with sunscreen whenever I venture outside, I haven’t had a major recurrence. But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 115,000 other Americans won’t be so lucky this year.

They’ll be diagnosed with melanoma, the most deadly and most common form of skin cancer. And 8,700 of them will die.

What’s so tragic is that, unlike prostate or breast cancer, skin cancer is easy to prevent and even easier to recognize. It’s as obvious as the nose on your sun-burned face. Of course, some people never see what’s in front of their face.

It’s also the cheapest and easiest cancer to prevent. You don’t have spend money on antioxidants or exotic supplements, and you don’t have to exercise or eat right. You don’t even have to stop sunbathing. Just follow these tips from Money Talks News Founder Stacy Johnson, and meet me on the other side for more details…

If you follow every bit of advice Stacy gives you in the video above, you’ll spend less than a dollar a day. Let’s break it down…

Shedding some light on sunscreen

Myth: The higher the SPF, the higher the price.

First, let’s define SPF: It stands for sun protection factor, and it can have a number as low as 2 or as high as 100. The higher the number, the higher the protection.

(And while we’re at it, let’s destroy another myth: General websites like About.com purport, “A sunscreen with an SPF of X allows you to stay out in the sun X times longer without burning.” That’s not true, says MedicineNet.com: “It is a common mistake…because the amount of sun exposure a person receives is dependent upon more than just the length of time spent in the sun.” It depends on where you live and your own body’s quirks, among other things.)

When I was a teen in the 1980s, the only place I could buy anything above SPF 15 – which is the lowest number most experts are comfortable with – was at my dermatologist’s office. Then drugstores started carrying it, and finally grocery stores. But over the past couple of years, I’ve bought only online. The prices are often better, and comparison shopping is a breeze.

A great online source for sunscreen research is the Environmental Working Group’s 2011 Sunscreen Guide. They rank 1,700 sunscreens, SPF lip balms, moisturizers, and makeups. If there’s a sunscreen you like, look it up by brand get a ranking in seconds. You can also get a list of their 153 best sunscreens here. (It includes at least one generic: Walgreens SPF 45.) I also like ConsumerSearch.

To buy, visit Drugstore.comYahoo! Shopping, Amazon or your favorite shopping site and take your pick. The three things I look for…

  1. SPF 30 or higher. Frankly, I won’t spend extra for SPF 100, because at some point, it’s diminishing returns. No dermatologist wants to go on record saying this, but I’ve had many tell me: For adults who don’t spend all day outside, anything in triple digits isn’t worth the extra cash.
  2. Just as important as SPF are three other letters: UVA. All sunscreens protect against UVB, which is the ultraviolet light that burns and peels your skin. But UVA is what makes you tan, and it can also cause sun damage. More and more sunscreens have added UVA protection over the years, but before you buy a really cheap sunscreen, check the label first.
  3. Even though I don’t play sports, I look for deals on sunscreens that advertise themselves as such – because when you read the labels further, you usually find that their formulas stay on longer. No sense buying a cheap sunscreen that wears off after only a few minutes.

Strong enough for a man, made for a woman

As a typically insensitive guy, I don’t care if my sunscreen is oily or smells bad. But my wife is a beautiful woman who cares about such things. These days, there are many moisturizers that come with a high SPF.

My wife has used Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Moisture SPF 15 and Lubriderm’s Advanced Therapy Lotion SPF 30. She tells me she can actually wear this stuff under her makeup. In a pinch, I’ve slathered on this stuff, and it goes on smooth and smells like, well, nothing.

And, of course, there are baby-safe formulas too. Lots of them, from California Baby to Coppertone Water Babies to Banana Boat Baby. Here’s a general rule of thumb I’ve noticed: Sunscreens for women can cost up to 50 percent more, while the baby stuff can cost double. But still, we’re talking a max of $20 per bottle for your baby that will last for several visits to the beach – and I know parents who spend more than that one cute little top the tyke will outgrow in two months.

New rules that matter

As much as I’ve covered about sunscreen, there’s just as much I haven’t mentioned. The topic can get really complex because sunscreen makers don’t have to explain much or even use the same terms. That’s why I was heartened this month when the the Food and Drug Administration announced a handful of important new rules for sunscreens. Just like the government does on food labels, it’ll mandate standardized sunscreen labels. You can learn more in this FDA Q&A, but one important thing to know is this: Those labels aren’t required until summer 2012. Hopefully, some manufacturers will start early – and I, for one, won’t be shy promoting their wares.

Use it or lose it

Just this week, I had an emergency doctor’s appointment because I found a lump in my arm. The doctor thinks it’s nothing but then said something I’ve heard so many times since I was 18: “But given your history, you need to go to a dermatologist and get a biopsy.”

Except for a few rare times when I’ve had “pre-cancerous lesions,” it’s usually nothing. But my point is, once you get cancer, it’ll cost you forever. Sure, I have health insurance, but I’m afraid to add up all the co-pays and time I’ve spent because of “my history.” If you want to save money and save your skin, use sunscreen.

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