It’s only the first week of spring, and much of the nation is already swathed in dangerous levels of ultraviolet sunlight. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s UV index, the majority of U.S. states are experiencing UV levels of 6 to 9 on its 1 to 11 scale, interpreted as “high” to “very high.”
And it will only get worse as we move into the dog days of summer.
The repercussions of exposure to such intense periods of UV light include sunburns, premature aging and skin cancer. While many of us think we’re invincible, we need only look at Grandma Jane — who loved her teen days of vacationing in Miami — to see how years of sun exposure at a young age lead to very visible signs of cumulative skin aging.
Like many of the fun things in life, it’s important to wear protection when you’re enjoying the sun. In this case, the best protection is sunscreen. But not all sunscreens are made alike, and some may actually be downright dangerous. Are you jumping from the kettle into the fire? Know what to look for, and what to avoid, the next time you’re shopping for sunscreen.
1. Consider a mineral sunscreen, such as one made with titanium dioxide, over a chemical-based sunscreen. Some of the most common chemicals used in sunscreen may disrupt your hormones and cause allergic reactions, warns the Environmental Working Group.
2. Choose a cream or liquid instead of a powder or spray. Spray or powder sunscreens may increase your risk of inhaling tiny sunscreen particles — consequences currently unknown — and many people who use spray-on or powder sunscreens may not know how to properly apply it for sufficient protection.
3. Verify that it has a minimum SPF of 30. But don’t go overboard. Some researchers say that once you pass the SPF 50 mark, the benefits of increased SPF are minimal.
4. Make sure it’s labeled as “broad spectrum.” Otherwise, the sunscreen may only be blocking out one kind of UV light, such as UVB, while the alternating UVA rays get through and wreck havoc on your skin.
5. Pair the sunscreen to the appropriate activity. If you’re just taking the dog for a walk, you don’t need a sweat- or water-resistant sunscreen. However, if you’re running a marathon, the lightweight, daily sunscreen-enhanced moisturizers on the market may not be enough.
6. Avoid vitamin A additives. While vitamin A may help improve the health of your skin when used alone, its addition to sunscreen might actually raise your risk of skin cancer, warns the Environmental Working Group.