There's no question that excessive time spent in the sun can induce wrinkles and life-threatening issues like skin cancer. So with all the different sunscreens lining the shelves of your local Walmarts and Targets this summer, it's an overwhelming task trying to find a sunscreen that will protect you from the harmful effects of sun exposure. However, recent studies have found that while it's important to pick a good sunscreen, it's even more important to realize that just applying sunscreen isn't enough to protect you.

 Some experts blame the rising rates of melanoma on the fact that most people don't put on nearly enough sunscreen as they should (a golfball-sized dollop) or don't reapply every two hours as directed. But there's a bigger issue: until recently, many sunscreens with a higher sun protection factor, or SPF, only protected against ultraviolet B rays, those that are the primary cause of sunburn, and not against ultraviolet A rays. UVA rays are associated with aging and skin damage, but may also be implicated in skin cancer.

Experts urge everyone to limit their time in the sun and to use hats, shirts and coverups to protect their skin instead of simply just relying on sunscreen as the only necessary aspect of protection. This summer, sunscreen manufactures must conform to new FDA regulations to help consumers identify labels and stop any consumer misperceptions.

“Broad spectrum protection,” written on the majority of sunscreen labels in the past now means that the sunscreen has been proved to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, though the UVA protection may be comparatively weaker. Any product with an SPF lower than 15 must carry a label warning that it will not protect against skin cancer, and labels must note a time limit of either 40 or 80 minutes before the sunscreen is ineffective. Manufactures can't say that sunscreens are "waterproof," only water resistant. Research conducted on whether or not higher SPFs are more effective has been inconclusive, but manufactures are still allowed to sell products with an SPF of 50 or higher, even though the higher number lends consumers to feel more protected (even though they aren't) and therefore not reapply as frequently.

The FDA has provided tips when selecting a sunscreen to protect consumers from excess sun exposure:

  • Look for products with an SPF of 15 to 50, and that are labeled “broad spectrum protection,” meaning they protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun, as their skin is especially sensitive. Infants should be completely covered when in the sun.
  • Keep older kids indoors during midday, when the sun's rays are the highest. A bad sunburn in childhood doubles the risk of melanoma later in life, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
  • Avoid sunscreen sprays. The FDA explains that the concern is twofold: not enough sunscreen makes it onto the skin, and that the spray may be inhaled into the lungs.
  • Avoid products with vitamin A, retinol or its derivatives, such as retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate (found in most anti-aging formulas and some acne medication) which could possibly increase the possibility of sunburn. [via The New York Times]

Lovelies, how do you protect yourself from the sun?

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