Summertime… So many outdoor activities, so little time! We look forward to long, carefree days playing in the sun, be it a picnic, trip to the lake, or just lounging by the pool. Whatever you do, make sure you protect your skin.

Don’t leave home without adequate sun protection! According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than one million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, will kill 7,910 people - that's nearly one person dying of melanoma every hour. Everyone is at risk, particularly infants and children, because of their thin, sensitive skin. Dermatologists recommend keeping infants out of the sun, and providing sunscreen for children six months or older; applied to areas not likely to be inadvertently put into their mouths, or that can drip into their eyes. But before you run out and buy the first product you see, you should know a few things.

There are actually two types of sun protection products: Sunscreen and Sunblock. Manufacturers of many of these products use the term "sunscreen" synonymously, but there are differences. Sunscreens are classified as chemical, while sunblock is physical. Sunscreens actually absorb the ultraviolet radiation, which reduces the amount of radiation that penetrates the skin. Sunblock, as the name implies, physically blocks both UVA and UVB radiation from the skin. Sunblocks used to be thick, white, greasy creams made of either titanium oxide or zinc oxide (you know, that lifeguard white), but thank goodness they have evolved and become much more user friendly.

Woman in bikini smears protective cream

What's a SPF?

Sunblocks and sunscreens are rated with SPF numbers or "Sun Protection Factor". SPF numbers are measured by timing how long skin covered with sunscreen takes to burn compared to uncovered skin. The higher the SPF, the more sunburn protection it gives. For example, SPF 15 means it will take 15 times longer to burn when wearing the sunscreen. Be aware that SPF factors only look at burning times, and the SPF ratings you see on sunscreens only apply to UVB rays.

What’s the difference in UVA and UVB radiation?

UVB radiation is the kind that causes sunburn. UVB waves travel at short frequencies, and don't penetrate beyond the skin's outer surface. It is very easy to tell who has had overexposure to UVB – they will either be burned or tanned. UVA radiation travels in long waves that skip merrily past the skin's surface and heads straight for the collagen that gives skin its elasticity. UVA damage isn't immediately visible, but takes a long-term toll on the skin. UVA exposure is the prime suspect in premature aging. What is worse is that scientists now believe UVA rays alter skin cells' DNA, causing mutations that can, like changes wrought by UVB, lead to cancer.

How do I choose a Sunscreen?

First of all, don't confuse quality with price. Do a little due diligence and read the labels, and feel free to hit the net and search for groups who have physically tested most of your choices. If you are reading the label, you want to look for products with high water-resistance or waterproof, with broad-spectrum protection. Broad-spectrum protection covers both UVA and UVB rays. The minimum SPF to look for is 15. Look for the active UVA ingredients, which could consist of one or more of the following: avobenzone (or Parsol 1789), oxybensone, and sulisobenzone.

But which one is best? Consumer Reports has released a report for 2012, and you may be surprised at which ones performed well and which did not in their physical testing. Among the top of the heap, the very affordable No-Ad Lotion with Aloe & Vitamin E SPF 45 (available at Walmart), and Walgreens Continuous Spray Sport SPF 50. On the bottom of the heap, we're surprised by the appearance of Alba Botanical Natural Very Emollient Sunblock Sport, SPF 45 and Banana Boat Kids Tear-Free, Sting-Free, SPF 50+. Check out the link to the full Consumer Reports article at the bottom.

Sun protection doesn’t have to stop with sunscreens and sunblock. Cosmetics can also be a wonderful way to maximize your time, money and sun protection – and keep you looking FABULOUS! Cosmetics formulated with physical sunblocks titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, as in mineral makeup, go a long way towards everyday sun care. They should never be used to replace sunscreens, but as additional protection. There are many types to choose from, and some are even manufactured locally!

Consumer Reports Rates Top Sunscreens of 2012

Donna Standridge
CEO, Saphoros Skincare Co
Mineral Makeup, Cosmetics, Natural Skincare

This article is not intended to offer medical advice in any way. Always consult a licensed medical doctor before beginning or ending any treatment regimen.

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