My family has always used a sunscreen with SPF30. Should I be using a sunscreen with SPF60 or higher to ensure better sun protection?
To understand the benefits you get from sunscreen, you need to look at the numbers behind the SPF numbers. At first glance, it would be easy to think that a sunscreen with SPF60 will give you double the protection of a sunscreen with SPF30. But that’s not the case. Sunscreens with SPF30 block 97% of the sun’s UVB rays, which are more commonly thought of as the “sunburn” rays. Sunscreens with SPF60 block about 98% of UVB rays.
Choosing the right sunscreen
Both the Canadian Dermatology Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend that sunscreens with SPF30 are sufficient to protect you and your family. In choosing a sunscreen, you should buy a “broad spectrum” product, which means that it contains ingredients that will protect against UVB rays and UVA rays, which are associated with aging and the risk of developing skin cancer.
Using sunscreen optimally
The guidelines for complete protection include avoiding sun at peak hours (11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.), and wearing shade-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. It’s also really important to take the following steps to make sure your sunscreen is doing what it’s supposed to do:
- Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside (that goes for you and your children).
- Apply a sufficient amount to get the full sun-blocking effect. You can follow the “teaspoon rule” for sunscreen application: 1 teaspoon of sunscreen on the face, head, and neck, 1 teaspoon on each arm (including hands), 1 teaspoon on the front torso, 1 teaspoon on the back torso, and 2 teaspoons on each leg (including feet).
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours if you continue to be outside—and sooner than two hours if you’re swimming or doing other physical activity that makes you sweat.
If your child is six months of age or younger, don’t put sunscreen on them
Children, like adults, should be protected with broad-spectrum sunscreens. However, if your child is six months of age or younger, don’t put sunscreen on them since their skin is too sensitive for the ingredients. Instead, follow the safe sun guidelines: dress them in loose-fitting clothing that protects them from the sun, always have them wear a hat, and seek shady areas when you’re outside. When they’re in the stroller, make sure they are shaded from the sun. For children aged six months to two years old, you can apply a sunscreen containing inorganic UV filters (e.g. zinc oxide or titanium oxide) on exposed areas.
When choosing a sunscreen, look for products that are recommended by the Canadian Dermatology Association. The association publishes a list of recognized products to help you choose.
- Canadian Dermatology Association: http://www.dermatology.ca/programs-resources/resources/sun-safety/#!/programs-resources/resources/sun-safety/protecting-your-family/
- Canadian Paediatric Society: http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/sun_safety