The right reasons to choose a sunscreen—

Side view mother applying sunscreen cream on son's back at beach

When you buy a sunscreen, what makes you buy one brand over another?

For many people, the reasons they choose aren’t the ones most likely to keep them safe from the sun.

In a study recently published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, researchers looked at the top 1% of sunscreens being sold on as of December 2015 (65 out of 6,500). By “top,” I mean the ones that had the highest number of reviews and got at least 4 out of 5 stars. When they looked at the brands, they found that a full 40% of those top 65 didn’t meet the sunscreen guidelines of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

The AAD recommends that sunscreens:

  • Be broad spectrum (meaning they protect you from both UVA and UVB rays).
  • Have an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, which blocks about 97% of the sun’s rays (note: there is no evidence that anything above an SPF 50 protects better than SPF 50).
  • Be water resistant, so that they are more likely to stay on if you get sweaty or go in the water.

The whole point of sunscreen is to, well, screen you from the sun — and prevent not just sunburn and premature signs of aging, but also skin cancer. If you get five sunburns in your lifetime, you will double your risk of getting melanoma. This can be particularly important in children, as sunburns early in life can increase the risk of skin cancer as an adult. So when choosing a sunscreen, it’s important to choose one that will best screen you — and your child — from the sun.

But in the study, that wasn’t the top reason people chose sunscreen. When the researchers analyzed the comments, they found that what was most important to buyers was what the researchers called “cosmetic elegance,” that is, how well the sunscreen rubbed in to the skin, and how it felt on the skin. That was rated more important than how the sunscreen actually worked.

Now, looking all white and streaky, or feeling sticky, are clearly not that desirable — and the researchers did comment that sunscreen manufacturers should try to increase the “cosmetic elegance” of their products so that people were more likely to use them. But given that it is estimated that there will be 76,280 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in 2016, and that 10,130 people will die of the disease, it’s important to keep perspective on what is truly desirable.

It’s important not just to choose the right sunscreen, but also to use it the right way. Here are some tips from the AAD:

  • Apply sunscreen before you go outside. It can take about 15 minutes for it to be absorbed into the skin — if you wait until you get outside, you will be unprotected for that time.
  • Use enough. You need about an ounce of sunscreen (roughly the amount in a shot glass) to cover your skin.
  • Cover all the bare skin. This is where a lot of people mess up. Remember your back, the back of your arms, legs, ears and neck, the tops of your feet. For hard to reach places, you may need help or a spray (never spray near the eyes or mouth — inhaling it is not a good idea). Here’s a tip for parents of small children: put the sunscreen on when they are naked, before you put on their suit. For people with thinning hair (or babies who don’t have much hair yet), use a broad-brimmed hat.
  • Reapply at least every 2 hours, sooner after swimming or sweating a lot.

So choose carefully — and use carefully. It can literally save lives.

Below are spiritual recipes for health and wellness: Matthew E. McLaren

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2 NIV

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 NIV

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 NIV

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love. Ephesians 3:16-17 NIV

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13  NIV

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Romans 12:9 NIV

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word. Ephesians 5:25-26 NIV

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