Monday, June 15, 2009

All Sunscreens Are Not Created Equal

I just came back from a 10 day beach vacation with my spouse and our two children. We spent up to 4 to 6 hours everyday on the beach or by the pool in full sun. Needless to say we went through numerous bottles of sunscreen. I find it amazing and confusing how they all can be so different in both price and effectiveness. Here is a basic breakdown of important terms used on sunscreen labels.

UVA- ultraviolet A radiation. Penetrating rays that cause sunburn, wrinkles, and age spots and contribute to skin cancer.

UVB- ultraviolet
B radiation. Can cause sunburn and other skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.

SPF- sun-protection factor, a measure of UVB sunburn protection on treated skin as compared with untreated skin. Basically, if your skin normally takes 10 minutes to turn red, SPF 30 lengthens that time to about 300 minutes.

Broad Spectrum- implies that the produt blocks UVA and UVB radiation, but doesn't indicate how effective the blocking is.

PABA Free- contains no esters of para-aminobenzoic acid, an older sun blocking ingredient that caused allergic reactions. Most sunscreens do not use this ingredient anymore.

Very Water Resistant- maintains the claimed SPF after 80 minutes in water. "Waterproof" has no FDA accepted definition, but it is used by some manufacturers to mean very water resistant.

Confused? I still am. What I found that works best for my children is not so much the brand name or claims, but how you apply and re-apply the sunscreen. It is recommended that you buy a sunscreen that is labeled very water resistant or waterproof and with an SPF of at least 30.

Apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. I found this to be the key factor in protecting my children. Easier said than done of course. Reapply every two hours is another key factor. Again, good luck! we found sprays to be affective but difficult to apply outdoors. The key to sprays is to do them early, often, and indoors. Of course the sun protective rash guards are a great addition to your sunscreen arsenal. It saved my sons shoulders this year.

Here are a few of consumer Reports recommended sunscreens from the July 2009 addition.

Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 lotion
Aveeno continuous Protection Spray SPF 45
Walgreens continuous spray sport SPF 50
Banana Boat Sport performance SPF 50 Lotion- We liked this one
Target Sport Continuous spray SPF 30