UMN expert: Sunscreen might not be as effective as you think

The sun is shining and summer has finally arrived. But before heading out for a long day at the beach, a University of Minnesota expert wants you to take a closer look at your sunscreen. A recent Consumer Reports study found 43 percent of sunscreens do not meet the SPF claim on their label and could be putting your skin at serious risk.

The study tested more than 60 sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher and found that the majority of sunscreens did not provide as much sun protection as they claimed.

Many of the sunscreens claimed to be over SPF 30, yet tested lower than SPF 15. According to the study, anything less than SPF 15 does not provide enough sun protection, and it could leave you vulnerable to sunburn and long-term skin damage, including melanoma and other skin cancers.

The study also mentioned that many people do not use sunscreen properly and they tend to use too little, don’t rub it in properly, or don’t reapply enough or at all.

Health Talk spoke with DeAnn Lazovich, Ph.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of epidemiology and community health in the School of Public Health and member of the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota.  

“Proper usage requires that the right amount is applied, it is applied about 30 minutes before going in the sun, reapplied after heavy sweating or spending time in the water, and/or after two hours,” said Lazovich.

Additionally, Lazovich noted a few things to keep in mind when buying sunscreen.

“Sunscreens are not supposed to labeled as waterproof, but only water resistant, sprays are not recommended because there is no way to control the amount applied, and sunscreens should have an SPF of 30 or higher AND be broad spectrum.”

People tend to pay attention to the SPF of their sunscreen, however, it is important to make sure the sunscreen is broad spectrum as well, according to Lazovich. SPF protects against UVB rays, but broad spectrum protects against UVA.

Since 1975, rates of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer have seen a steady increase, making overall skin protection a top priority.

The World Health Organization recommends that, in addition to wearing sunscreen, people should stay out of the sun during peak hours, wear hats and clothing that block the sun, and utilize shade whenever possible in order reduce the risk of serious skin damage.

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