3. SPF Doesn’t Always Block UVA Rays
The magic number shown on the bottle refers only to a sunscreen’s ability to block the sunburn-inducing UVB rays, not to be confused with UVA rays, the ones that cause wrinkles and skin cancer (though excessive exposure to both rays can lead to skin cancer). The FDA is considering a set of guidelines that would use a four-star system to rate a sunscreen’s effectiveness against UVA rays. In the meantime, check the ingredients on the bottle for one of these UVA blockers:
Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide: These ingredients are famous for their UVA blockage, and new formulas won’t leave you with a Casper-like film on your face. Try Episencial’s Sunny Sunscreen SPF 35 Water-Resistant Protection for Face and Body.
Avobenzone (a.k.a. Parsol 1789): This common UVA fighter is among the most effective chemical-based blockers. Choose one like MDSolarSciences No Touch Body Spray SPF 40.
Ecamsule (a.k.a. Mexoryl SX): This chemical ingredient is 3.8 times more protective than avobenzone and has long been a staple in European and Canadian sunscreens. It’s now available in a few American blocks, including La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios line and L’Oreal’s Ombrelle line. But it’s not cheap–a 3.4-ounce bottle of La Roche-Posay costs $30 (laroche-posay.us).
4. Sunscreen Expires
If you pull a half-empty, sand-caked tube of last summer’s sunscreen out of your beach bag, check the expiration date before using it. Most sunscreens are designed with specially formulated stabilizers that protect its potency for up to three years, but that’s assuming you didn’t let it bake for days in your backyard. “Leaving sunblock in intense heat for a prolonged amount of time may make it less effective,” says Mitchell Chasin, M.D., medical director of Reflections Center for Skin and Body in New Jersey and fellow of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. So store sunblock in a cool place, and while you’re at the beach, keep it in the shade.
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