Finally the sun is shining in our Pacific Northwest, tempting us outside to soak in its warmth.  Before running outdoors you apply a little sunscreen with a high SPF to protect from sunburn and skin cancer.  You’re good to go, right?  Read on . . .

What is the best protection against the sun’s UV rays?

  • Shade is best! You can find or make your own shade.
  • Avoid the sun when it is directly overhead as that is when UV radiation peaks.
  • Wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses. Model this habit for your children.
  • Use sunscreen on areas that can’t be covered, like hands.

When you do use sunscreen, here is what to look for:

  • An SPF of 15-30. Higher SPF ratings do not offer more protection and could give you a false sense of security. Research has not shown conclusively whether frequent sunscreen users have reduced risk of melanoma.
  • Both UVB and UVA protection. UVB rays contribute to sunburn and UVA rays to melanoma. Mineral-based ingredients offer better UVA protection.
  • The active ingredients Avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. These non-mineral based ingredients are considered safest as research to date shows they are neither hormone disruptors nor carcinogens.
  • The active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These mineral-based ingredients are considered safer as research to date shows they are neither hormone disruptors nor carcinogens. The active ingredients are very small, but the most recent research shows minimal to no skin penetration.

Apply your sunscreen generously and reapply at least every 2 hours. The recommendation is to use one ounce, which is two tablespoons, for each adult. Make sure to reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating or using a towel.

Check out your sunscreen’s safety rating here, at the EWG’s 2020 Guide to Suncreens (updated).

Avoid these in your sunscreen:

  • Oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen and hormone disrupting chemical.
  • Vitamin A or retinyl palmitate, which may increase the development of skin tumors when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
  • Sprays or powders, to protect from inhaling particles.
  • ‘Fragrance’ in the ingredients. Fragrances may contain phthalates, chemicals linked with reproductive effects and asthma.

Ignore misleading advertising like “waterproof,”  “sweat-proof,” and “sunblock.”

For children in daycare and summer camps:

  • Check to see if activities are scheduled to avoid the noonday sun.
  • Look for shade, both natural and man-made.
  • Use your own carefully chosen sunscreen, rather than what is provided.
  • Send a hat and a light weight long-sleeved shirt.

For infants:

  • Infants have less melanin and need shade and clothing for sun protection. Find some great tips here.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using minimal amounts of sunscreen on small areas only when adequate clothing and shade are not available.

Final Thoughts:

  • Sunscreens were developed to protect against sun burns, not skin cancer. Scientific research shows that sunscreens offer some protection from squamos cell carcinoma, but show conflicting results for basal cell carcinoma and for melanoma, the most harmful of the skin cancers.
  • All sunscreens release free radicals when the ingredient molecules absorb UV energy.  Although free radicals may damage DNA and skin cells, it is still advisable to use sunscreen when you must be out in the sun.

For more information:

Environmental Working Group, Sunscreen Guide,

American Academy of Pediatrics, Fun in the Sun

American Academy of Dermatology, Be Sun Smart