Sun Protection: How to Protect Yourself

-Provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation 

Cover It Up

Clothing can provide a great barrier against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Its protection is consistent over time and doesn’t wear off like sunscreen does. Many new fabrics offer high-tech protection and breathability, too. The more skin you cover (high neck, long sleeves, pants), the better, and a hat with a wide brim all the way around (three inches or more) is best because it helps shade your eyes, ears, face and neck. Also wear UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around them.

What does UPF mean? Look for UPF, which stands for ultraviolet protection factor, on labels for clothing, hats and fabrics. The number indicates what fraction of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the fabric. A shirt labeled UPF 50, for example, allows just 1/50th of the UV radiation to reach your skin.

The pitfall: Any clothing leaves some skin exposed, so you need sunscreen, too. Don’t forget to apply it to your hands, especially after washing them.

Know Your Sunscreen

Sunscreens come in many formulations and delivery methods, and it can take trial and error to find the one you like best. Whether it’s a sport spray, an easy-to-use stick or a rich moisturizer with anti-aging ingredients, the best sunscreen is the one you will use every day.




1. Broad spectrum. The words “broad spectrum” on a label indicate that the sunscreen contains ingredients that effectively protect against UVA rays as well as UVB. It’s essential for your sunscreen to offer broad spectrum protection, which means that it offers effective protection against both UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) rays, the solar wavelengths proven to damage the skin. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB, and are the chief cause of wrinkles, sagging and other signs of aging. UVB rays damage the skin’s upper surface and are the main cause of sunburn. Both cause skin cancer.

2. Sun Protection Factor (SPF): SPF is a measure of how long a person can stay in the sun before its UVB rays start to burn the skin.  SPF stands for sun protection factor. The number tells you how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to redden your skin when using a particular sunscreen compared with the amount of time without sunscreen. So if you use an SPF 15 product exactly as directed (applied generously and evenly, and reapplied after two hours or after sweating or swimming), it would take you 15 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen.. In the real world, no matter what the SPF, sunscreens start to lose effectiveness over time, so it’s important to reapply every two hours and after swimming or heavy sweating. Also note that above SPF 50 the amount of additional sun protection is negligible. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends always using a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher – SPF 30 or higher for extended stays outdoors.

3. Water resistance.While sunscreens can’t claim to be waterproof, they can be labeled water resistant for either 40 or 80 minutes. Yes, you can burn even when you’re in the water, so reapplying is key! Water-resistant: The terms “water-resistant” and “sweat-resistant” indicate whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes when you are swimming or sweating. Since no sunscreen is fully “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” the FDA prohibits these terms.

4. The Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation: Look for our Seal to assure yourself that a product is safe and effective.  Scientific data for each product that is submitted for the Seal of Recommendation is reviewed by a volunteer committee of renowned photobiologists — experts in the study of the interaction of ultraviolet radiation and the skin. The Daily Use Seal is earned by sunscreens that protect against brief everyday sun exposures, the kind you experience walking to the car or running errands. The Active Seal is earned by sunscreens that protect against prolonged sun exposure, like when you’re exercising outdoors or spending the day at the beach.

5. Active ingredients: This area of the label, often on the back of the bottle, lists the main ingredients in sunscreens that protect your skin against UV rays. There are two main types of active sunscreen ingredients: chemical and physical. Chemical ingredients such as avobenzone and benzophenone, work by absorbing UV like a sponge, reducing its penetration into the skin, whereas physical ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide stay on top of the skin and deflect UV rays like a shield. Many sunscreens available today combine chemical and physical ingredients.

Note for those with sensitive skin: Products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, sometimes referred to as mineral or physical formulas, may be less likely to cause skin irritation in people who have sensitive skin.

Caution: Most people don’t apply sunscreen exactly as directed. They may not apply it liberally enough, might miss spots and may forget to reapply regularly. Slather it on!


Seek the Seal: The bottom line is that you need several types of sun protection to safeguard your skin. It takes a village! Many products that meet stringent criteria for safe and effective UV protection have earned The Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation. Look for clothing, hats, sunglasses, sunscreens, moisturizers, cosmetics, awnings, umbrellas, window film and more that carry the Seal. Search here.


Skin Cancer Seal of Recommendation | Southern Cancer Center


The Skin Cancer Foundation advises everyone to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

Look Out for Windows

While glass blocks UVB rays pretty well, it allows UVA rays to pass through. This is true of your windows at home as well as on the road.

Car windshields are treated to shield drivers from most UVA rays, but side, back and sunroof windows usually aren’t. When you’re in your car, protect yourself and your family with hats, clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen, whatever it takes. Another option is to have UV-protective window film applied to windows, in your car or at home.

The windows on airplanes, trains and buses also allow UVA rays to pass through. That’s why airline pilots, crew members and even frequent travelers may get more skin cancers than other people.

The pitfall: You need to plan ahead before traveling and make sure you have sunscreen on and protective clothing with you.

Say No to Tanning Beds

It’s simple: Don’t use a tanning bed — ever. Indoor tanning (even one time) raises the risk of all kinds of skin cancer, including melanoma. In fact, using a tanning bed before age 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 75 percent.

The pitfall: While a number of states have implemented laws prohibiting minors under a certain age (varying from 18 to 14) from using tanning beds, or requiring parental consent, other states have not restricted access. Peer pressure to be tan can affect your better judgment at any age. Say no!

Early Detection Starts with You

Using sun protection consistently from an early age is the strongest defense against developing skin cancer.

No person or method is perfect, though, and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that all adults do monthly skin self-exams and see a dermatologist annually, or more frequently if they see something suspicious or have risk factors. Learn more about early detection.