Which Level of SPF Sunscreen Should You Use?

Be proactive about preventing skin cancer by wearing sunscreen every day on areas that will be exposed to outdoor light - even on cloudy days, when 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can slip through the clouds. Here's what you need to know for the best protection.

How Has Sunscreen Improved Over the Years?
A far cry from the white stuff you wore as a kid, today's sunscreens are nongreasy, invisible on the skin, and come in every form possible, from sprays to wipes. The biggest improvement: Many products now shield you more effectively from the sun's two types of dangerous rays, UVB (which are the main cause of sunburn and have been linked to skin cancer) and UVA (which penetrate through car and house windows, infiltrate the skin's deepest layer, and have been linked to melanoma and premature aging, including wrinkles). With so many sunscreens to choose from, you're bound to find one you like enough to wear every day!

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Which Level of SPF Is Right for You?
The American Academy of Dermatology recently upped its recommendation from daily use of SPF 15 or higher to a minimum of SPF 30 on exposed skin. The SPF number on sunscreen indicates how much longer than usual you can stay in the sun without burning if you use it. If you usually start burning after 10 minutes, for instance, using an SPF 30 sunscreen means it would take you 30 times longer to burn, or 300 minutes. SPF refers only to the lotion's level of protection against UVB rays, though, so make sure the label on the bottle boasts coverage that's "broad-spectrum"; this means it protects against UVB and UVA.

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Are You Applying It Correctly?
Slather it on generously: Most people rub on less than half the amount of sunscreen that's recommended, which is one ounce - enough to fill a shot glass - for the entire body. Using too little SPF 15, say, may only give you the coverage of SPF 5, Tanzi says (one reason dermatologists now recommend SPF 30). Apply sunscreen to skin about 30 minutes before going into the sun. Then reapply every two hours or immediately after sweating, swimming, or drying off with a towel (which can rub lotion off).

Sunscreen Tips:
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Have you had any sunburn or skin cancer scares? How do you protect yourself in addition to slathering on the sunscreen?

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.