13 Ways to Make Sure Your Sunscreen is Protecting You

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It’s the middle of summer and there’s still plenty of time for outdoor activities in the region to enjoy the sunshine – as long as you protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays with adequate sunscreen.

“It’s always a good thing to remind people that they should protect their skin at all times, especially in Southern California, where people spend a lot of time outdoors during the summer months,” said Wilma Wooten, MD, M.P.H., San Diego County public health officer. “As people pack their beach towels, tote picnic baskets or head out on bikes or hikes, people need to always be aware of too much exposure to the sun and the damages it can cause.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and can develop from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the United States than all other cancers combined, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One hundred and thirty four San Diegans died from skin cancer in 2016. Ultraviolet exposure can be related to sun overexposure or tanning booths.

“Don’t forget that high UV indexes can occur even when it’s not particularly hot and you can get sunburned even on a cloudy day,” said Wooten. “If you are sunburned, not only can it be painful and damaging to your skin, but your body’s ability to cool itself can be hampered.”

Overexposure to UV radiation and heat-related illnesses can be prevented. The first step is to be aware of UV radiation and excessive heat forecasts.

Here are some tips from the CDC on how to select, apply and use sunscreen correctly:

What to Look for When You Buy Sunscreen

  • Pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
  • Read product labels. Look for a waterproof brand if you will be sweating or swimming.
  • Use a water-based sunscreen if you have oily skin or are prone to acne.
  • Be aware that more expensive does not mean better. Although a costly brand might feel or smell better, it is not necessarily more effective than a cheaper product.
  • Be aware of the expiration date because some sunscreen ingredients might degrade over time.

When to Apply Sunscreen

  • Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before being in the sun (for best results) so that it can be absorbed by the skin and less likely to wash off when you perspire.
  • Remember to reapply sunscreen after swimming or strenuous exercise.
  • Apply sunscreen often throughout the day if you work outdoors, and wear hats and protective clothing.
  • Apply sunscreen first before applying insect repellent. This is true for both lotions and spray products.

How to Apply Sunscreen

  • Be sure to apply enough sunscreen. As a rule of thumb, use an ounce (a handful) to cover your entire body or use spray on or roll on sunscreen.
  • Use on all parts of your skin exposed to the sun, including the ears, back, shoulders, and the back of the knees and legs.
  • Apply thickly and thoroughly.
  • Be careful when applying sunscreen around the eyes.
Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact