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The burning question

Which sunscreen will protect me from harmful rays?

What’s the difference between sunscreen, sunblock and suntan lotion? What’s the right amount of protection: SPF 8, 30 or 100?

You want to save yourself and your kids from sun damage. But wading through solutions in the drugstore can be more puzzling than enlightening. Packaging and labeling marketing spin has slipped out of hand.

With skin cancer as the most common form of cancer and two million people diagnosed annually, the need for sun protection is greater than ever. The FDA has stepped in to shed light on the issue.

What should I buy?

Your sunscreen should be “Broad Spectrum” with an SPF value from 15 to 50.

“Broad Spectrum” is the new FDA-approved term that protects against ultraviolet A and B radiation. New research shows that it’s important to shield against both UVA and UVB radiation. If you have sunscreen resting on your shelf, the kind you have most likely only guards against sunburn (UVB radiation damage). UVA damage contributes to skin cancer and early aging.

Similar to Broad Spectrum rules, SPF values must now reflect UVA protection, too, not just UVB. Broad Spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value between 15 and 50 can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early aging. The FDA has found that effectiveness tops off at SPF 50.

The new labels — “Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]” — are starting to hit store shelves now, and will be the norm by next summer.

How often should I apply?

You should apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before spending time in the sun and reapply every two hours.

The sun’s rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes, which is the same amount of time it takes for sunscreen to dry. It’s important to apply before you head outside because sunscreen does not offer instant protection.

Sunscreens are only water resistant. The new label will show either 40 or 80 minutes of effectiveness, and then it’s time to reapply. The FDA has banned the terms “waterproof,” “sweatproof” and “sunblock” from new sunscreen labels.

Are the sunscreens I have still effective?

The FDA believes your sunscreen is still safe and effective.

You may continue to use the sunscreen you have, but it will not protect as well. Broad Spectrum sunscreen will have higher levels of UVA protection and pass the FDA’s new standardized test. Your current sunscreen shields you from sunburn (UVB damage) but not skin cancer and early skin aging risks (UVA damage).

Learn more ways to keep your family safe in the summer sun.


GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention welcomes the opportunity to share this general information. However, this article is not intended to be relied upon as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.