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Sunscreen: A Mixed Blessing?

By HERWriter
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Wellness related image Photo: Getty Images

Sunscreens come in many forms. They can be applied as creams, gel, lotion, ointments and sprays. They can be smoothed onto your eyelids, lips, neck and nose, with a salve or with a stick.

Putting a barrier between you and the sun's rays can create a sense of security that is, unfortunately, partly illusion.

Only broad-spectrum sunscreens can prevent both sunburn and other kinds of damage. And higher-SPF sunscreens are no guarantee of higher levels of protection. The United States Food and Drug Administration recommends SPF between 15 and 50+.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends products that have an SPF of 30 or higher. Keep in mind that an SPF number refer only to UVB protection, and not protection from UVA rays, unless you are using broad-spectrum sunscreen. These types of sunscreen are not subject to any standard system of measurement of protection offered.

Some sunscreens contain chemicals that can be harmful. Oxybenzone for instance is a synthetic form of estrogen that can cause hormonal problems. And para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) can actually increase the risk of sunburn.

Instead, choose active ingredients such as avobenzone, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. They can protect against some UVB rays and most UVA rays. According to medicine.net, zinc oxide more effectively blocks UV radiation than titanium dioxide can.

According to the Environmental Working Group, government research suggests that vitamin A, called retinyl palmitate in some sunscreens, may encourage the development of lesions and tumors.

Creams, lotions and ointments are more effective and less potentially harmful than powders or sprays. Both of these forms can fill the air with sunscreen particles that can end up in your lungs.

When you use sunscreen, make sure you are using enough to afford real protection. Filling your palm will give you about an ounce, which is about the right amount to spread over all exposed skin.

Put on sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going out. Do it again every two hours or so.

If you are swimming or if you've been sweating heavily, you'll need to apply more frequently.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.