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A mother applying sunscreen to their daughter’s face to protect them from the suns UV rays

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Sunscreen questions? We've got you covered

  • Most of us don't use enough sunscreen. It is best to apply 15-20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours.
  • SPF is short for sun protection factor. It’s an indicator of the amount of protection you’ll get from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) listing on the label offers extra security from the sun.

Summer! After a long winter and a cold, lingering spring, the warm summer weather is a long-awaited treat. As a parent, you know it’s important to protect your kids from the damaging effects ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. But, all those sunscreen details and varieties can be confusing. We’ll help shed light on some common sunscreen questions and provide smart sun safety tips to practice all year long.

What does SPF mean and is higher SPF better?

SPF is short for sun protection factor. It’s an indicator of the amount of protection you’ll get from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays.

For example, sunscreen with SPF-15 protects against 93 percent of UV rays, while an SPF-30 protects against 97 percent of UV rays. Most experts believe SPF-30 is the most you’ll need, provided you put on enough. Most of us don't use enough sunscreen. The trick is to reapply. It is best to apply 15-20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours.

If you miss a spot when applying sunscreen, these tips can help you stop the pain and start the healing

Should I wear sunscreen when it’s cloudy outside?

Yes. You should apply sunscreen even on cloudy days. Forty percent of the sun's UV rays can actually pass through clouds, which can explain why people will often get sunburnt on cloudy days if they spent a long time outdoors without adequate UV protection. I wear sunscreen year round on my face, neck and back of my hands.

Learn more about melanoma and non-melanoma (skin cancer), and the care and services offered by Allina Health.

Do babies or children need to use different sunscreen from adults?

Babies younger than six months should be kept out of the sun. Their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen and has very little melanin, making them more susceptible to the sun’s UV rays. If you can't avoid the sun, use a small amount of sunscreen on your baby's hands and face or other exposed skin.

For children six to 12 months, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15+ to their exposed skin. While you don't have to use a sunscreen made for children, that would be my first choice since it could be better for sensitive skin. Also, most companies have tear-free formulas that won't sting baby's eyes. If using a spray, mist into your hands before applying to your baby’s face. Water-resistant, spray-on sunscreens are a good choice for toddlers who won't sit still.  

If I wear clothes with sun protection, do I need to wear sunscreen?

Clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) listing on the label offers extra security from the sun. UPF indicates what fraction of the sun's UV rays can penetrate the fabric. A shirt with a UPF of 50 allows just 1/50th of the sun's UV radiation to reach the skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends clothing with a UPF of 30 or higher. I recommend still wearing sunscreen for added protection.

Do you need to wear sunscreen if you have dark skin?

Yes, you should still apply sunscreen. Although people with more skin pigmentation tend to have a lower skin cancer risk, it doesn't mean they're immune to it. Even if you have a dark complexion, you could have genes that make you more susceptible to skin cancer.

Can you use sunscreen from last year?

Sunscreens are designed to remain at original strength for up to three years. This means that you can use leftover sunscreen from one year to the next. Some sunscreens include an expiration date indicating when they're no longer effective. Discard sunscreen that is past its expiration date. If you buy sunscreen that doesn't have an expiration date, write the date of purchase on the bottle. Also, discard sunscreen that is more than three years old, has been exposed to high temperatures, or has obvious changes in color or consistency. If you use sunscreen generously and frequently, a bottle of sunscreen shouldn't last from one year to the next.

Do you just need to put sunscreen on your face, arms, legs, back, and neck?

Your ears, back of your hands and back of your neck, are areas that are commonly missed when applying sunscreen. Wearing a hat is a good way to avoid sunburn on your scalp and doubles as face protection. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing a lip balm with an SPF of at least 30. Start kids early wearing hats and sunglasses outside for added protection so they become familiar with this routine.

There is no such thing as a “healthy tan”. Consider these facts before seeking a tan.

Is sunblock the same thing as sunscreen?

No. Sunblock blocks UV rays while sunscreen uses chemicals to absorb UV rays before your skin does. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) doesn’t recommend one over another. Just make sure you choose one that offers “broad spectrum" protection for both UVA and UVB exposure.

Need medical treatment for your sunburn? Get care now.


WHAT YOU CAN DO

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