Alberta Cancer Foundation

Screening for the Right Sunscreen

1. Think 30 and 60 for SPF, your Sun Protection Factor. Use 60 SPF on your face, which is constantly exposed, and 30 on your body. Anything less isn’t enough.

2. Manufacturers must meet strict FDA standards to quality for their advertised SPF numbers, but testing is usually done using three times the amount of sun screen most users actually apply. So don’t take the numbers literally. SPF 60 doesn’t mean you can stay out in the sun 60 times longer than without. Some experts suggest that SPF 60 equates to SPF 7 in reality, since most people don’t apply enough. No sunscreen blocks all UV radiation.

3. All sunscreens protect against UVB (ultraviolet B) rays, but not all protect against UVA (ultraviolet A). Look for those labelled “broad spectrum” or UVA/UVB, for both.

4. Don’t believe “waterproof” claims. All sunscreens wear off to some degree when wet and should be reapplied after swimming or profuse sweating.

5. Children, and others with sensitive skin, may react to non-UV-blocking ingredients. Read the ingredients and test first on a small area of your skin.

6. Infants under six months need special care since they don’t have melanin proteins for sun protection. Covering up with shade and clothing are the best choices; if sunscreen must be used, keep it minimal, on exposed skin only.

7. Read the fine print and avoid chemicals like oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt your hormone balance. Instead, choose “mineral” sunscreens with zinc and titanium, considered among the safest and most effective currently available.

8. Synthetic A (or retinyl palmitate) is becoming a popular sunscreen ingredient for its anti-aging and moisturizing properties, but this may be a dangerous addition. New studies suggest synthetic A may increase cancer risk when combined with sunlight. Results aren’t conclusive yet, but it makes sense to avoid retinyl palmitate until they are.

9. Ditto that for sunscreens with bug spray ingredients, which often contain skin penetration enhancers. Do you really want to absorb that much pesticide?

10. Sprays may be easier to apply, but can be hazardous if inhaled. Creams are a safer choice.

11. Double-check that you’re grabbing sunscreen, not suntan lotion. You can still tan wearing sunscreen, but at a slower, more controlled rate.