Applying sunscreen

It’s summertime, and in between trips to the beach, the pool and the park, many of us are spending a lot more time outdoors. Health experts agree that using sunscreen is important during summer activities to protect exposed skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. But many consumers have questions about what’s in their sunscreen products, and why it’s important to use sunscreen.

Here’s a quick round up of sunscreen safety facts from the experts:

We’ve pulled together answers to a few of the most common questions about sunscreen

  • How does sunscreen work?
    Most sun protection products work by absorbing, reflecting or scattering sunlight. Sunscreens provide protection from the two types of damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays: UVA and UVB. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause sunburns and can lead to longer-term health effects such as skin cancers, premature skin aging and eye damage.

    A sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” provides UV protection across both the UVB and UVA range. According to FDA, sunscreens with broad spectrum UV protection and SPF 15 or higher can help protect against skin aging and skin cancer.

  • Is sunscreen safe?
    The American Academy of Dermatology and numerous health experts and professional organizations state sunscreen is “safe to use” and can reduce your risk of skin cancer.

    Before an ingredient can be used in sunscreen, it must be approved by FDA. Currently, FDA has approved 17 ingredients for use in sunscreen, including oxybenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and several more are under FDA consideration.

    FDA has conducted extensive reviews of the safety of zinc oxide, a common ingredient in sunscreen, and has approved the use of zinc oxide in over-the-counter skin protectants and in sunscreen products at concentrations up to 25 percent.

    This FDA video has more information about sunscreen safety.

  • What are the active ingredients in sunscreen?
    Broad-spectrum sunscreens often contain a number of chemical ingredients that absorb UVA and UVB radiation. Many sunscreens contain UVA-absorbing avobenzone or a benzophenone (such as dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone), in addition to UVB-absorbing chemical ingredients (some of which also contribute to UVA protection). Some sunscreens also contain alcohol, fragrances and/or preservatives.

    Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are used in sunscreen to reflect, scatter and absorb both UVA and UVB rays. Using nanotechnology, the particle sizes of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can be reduced, making them appear more transparent on skin without losing their ability to screen harmful UV rays.

    A list of ingredients approved by FDA for use in sunscreen can be found here.

  • What does SPF mean?
    SPF, or Sunburn Protection Factor, is a measure of how much UV radiation is required to produce sunburn on skin protected with sunscreen, as compared to unprotected skin. As the SPF level in a sunscreen increases, sunburn protection increases. 
  • Can sunscreen expire or go bad?
    Yes. According to the Skin Care Foundation, manufacturers include expiration dates to sunscreen containers to specify the time limit for a product’s stability and efficacy. For best results, store your sunscreen in a cool place, and use it before the stated expiration date.