3 Simple Steps to Protecting Your Skin This Summer

These easy-to-remember steps will keep you from damaging your skin while enjoying the summer sun.


If the only thing you look for in a sunscreen is a certain SPF, your skin and wallet stand to get burned.

Effective, affordable sun protection exists, but you need to know what is important. So we’ve broken it down into three main factors to remember when trying to keep your skin safe:

  1. Apply sunscreen correctly
  2. Choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen
  3. Wear the right clothing

1. Apply your sunscreen correctly

The way you apply sunscreen impacts its effectiveness. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises applying sunscreen about 15 minutes before going into the sun to give the skin enough time to absorb it.

Most adults need at least 1 ounce of sunscreen — at least enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover all exposed areas of the body, according to the AAD. Consumer Reports cites another rule of thumb: 1 teaspoon per area of the body — such as the face, neck or each arm.

Don’t forget areas like your ears, hands, lips (for which you can use a balm with sunscreen) and the tops of your feet.

Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating excessively, to maintain your protection.

2. Choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen

The term “sun protection factor,” or “SPF,” refers to how long a sunscreen can protect the skin from ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, which medical experts say can cause sunburns and skin cancer. But the sun also radiates ultraviolet A (UVA), which can cause cancer — and wrinkles and age spots.

The term “broad spectrum” refers to sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, which makes it key. Here’s how to find these kinds:

Choose products that bear the phrase “broad spectrum SPF” followed by an SPF number.

By federal law, seeing those words on a product means that it has passed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s broad-spectrum testing.

Double-check broad-spectrum claims with the product’s active ingredients.

Look for active ingredients that the FDA has approved for use in sunscreen. According to the international nonprofit Skin Cancer Foundation, those that protect against UVA rays include:

  • avobenzone, at concentrations of up to 3 percent
  • dioxybenzone, up to 3 percent
  • meradimate, up to 5 percent
  • oxybenzone, up to 6 percent
  • sulisobenzone, up to 10 percent
  • titanium dioxide, up to 25 percent
  • zinc oxide, up to 25 percent

FDA-approved active ingredients that protect against UVB rays include:

  • aminobenzoic acid (aka PABA), at concentrations of up to 15 percent
  • cinoxate, up to 3 percent
  • dioxybenzone, up to 3 percent
  • ensulizole, up to 4 percent
  • homosalate, up to 15 percent
  • octinoxate, up to 7.5 percent
  • octisalate, up to 5 percent
  • octocrylene, up to 10 percent
  • oxybenzone, up to 6 percent
  • padimate O, up to 8 percent
  • sulisobenzone, up to 10 percent
  • titanium dioxide, up to 25 percent
  • trolamine salicylate, up to 12 percent
  • zinc oxide, up to 25 percent

Some people prefer sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are minerals, because they’re considered natural and less likely to irritate skin or sting eyes.

However, year after year, Consumers Reports’ testing has found that sunscreens with these ingredients “don’t perform that well.” None of the mineral products that Consumer Reports tested this year earned the nonprofit organization’s recommendation.

Find appraisals by reputable independent organizations. Consumer Reports and the Skin Cancer Foundation do their own testing of sunscreens. The latter also gives “seals of recommendation” to passing products.

The foundation’s recommended products protect against UVA and UVB radiation, including having a confirmed SPF of at least 15, and satisfy other criteria. Note, though, that the AAD recommends sunscreens with SPFs of at least 30.

Visit the foundation’s website to learn which sunscreens have earned a seal. Not all products that have earned a seal bear it on their packaging, the foundation says.

The Environmental Working Group’s 2015 Guide to Sunscreens allows you to search for a particular sunscreen to learn the national nonprofit’s take on it. The 2016 guide is expected to be out soon.

3. Wear the right clothing

Sunscreen should be used alongside other sun-protection methods, including wearing hats and clothing.

Textiles have a UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, that indicates how much UV radiation can penetrate the fabric. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation:

To receive the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, sun-protective fabrics must have a minimum UPF of 30. We consider a UPF rating of 30-49 to offer very good protection, and 50+ excellent protection.

In general, light-colored, lightweight and loosely woven fabrics offer less protection from the sun, according to the foundation. Instead, look for clothes with darker fabrics. Heavier fabrics also protect you better.

And whenever possible, choose long-sleeve shirts and tops. According to the foundation:

That white T-shirt you slip on at the beach when you feel your skin burning provides only moderate protection from sunburn, with an average ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 7. At the other end of the spectrum, a long-sleeved dark denim shirt offers an estimated UPF of 1,700 — which amounts to a complete sun block.

A good rule of thumb: If you can see through a fabric when you hold it up to the light, it probably offers inadequate protection.

If you already have a sunburn, be sure to check out “25 Home Remedies and Tips for Sunburn.”

Do you have other tips for preventing sunburn? Share them in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Stacy Johnson

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