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Picking the right sunscreen is not what you thought

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
How to choose the right sunscreen

A new study from Northwestern Medicine researchers found forty-three percent of consumers surveyed had no idea what to look for when choosing the right sunscreen. Are you using the right skin protection?


Choosing the right sunscreen can save your skin from premature aging and skin cancer, but looking at SPF value isn’t all you need to know.

The finding that is published in the journal JAMA revealed a large number of consumers rely only on factors like sweat and water resistance, SPF and sensitive skin formulation when making a sunscreen choice.

Over half of people surveyed responded they buy sunscreen with the highest SPF when instead we should be looking for the words “broad spectrum” protection on the label.

How to decipher sunscreen labels

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"We need to do a better job of educating people about sun protection and make it easier for them to understand labels," said Dr. Roopal Kundu, lead author of the study.

In order to decipher sunscreen labels and to protect from sunburn, wrinkles and skin cancer, here is what you need to know:

  • UV-A and UV-B rays contribute to skin aging and cancer while UV-B rays are the main cause of sunburn – thus the need for broad spectrum protection.
  • Sunscreen should be waterproof and with SPF of at least 30.
  • Apply sunscreen fifteen minutes before going into the sun and reapply every two hours to exposed skin (use about a shot glass full of lotion for re-application).
  • Remember that buying SPF 30 lotion or oil does not mean you’re 100 percent protected. The only way to stay protected is to stay out of the sun, according to Kundu, who also recommends better labeling for consumers to understand.

For example, part of the study included showing participants’ sunscreen labels that placed a star rating for UV-A protection and an SPF rating for UV-B protection that helped eighty-percent of people understand sunscreen protection factors.

Kundu noted he is concerned that too many people rely on SPF factor alone when choosing a sunscreen. Re-labeling could be a promising approach to help consumers make better sunscreen choices that would prevent sunburn and help lower the incidence of skin cancer that has been on the rise, especially among young people.


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Great!! This is going to help me a lot, Thanks.