SPF: Spells Summer

By: Kandace L. West, Pharm.D.

Summer is officially here! For Older Adults sun can be overwhelming and too much is never good. Short term sun exposure increases risk of dehydration and long term exposure for skin cancer. Protective clothing is one of the best ways to stay covered and protected from the sun. Never underestimate the value of a broad brim hat, thin long sleeves and pants, sunglasses, and if possible shade or a tent. If you will be participating in outdoor activities this summer, do you know the best sunscreen to get? It can be a little confusing and there certainly are many products out there when visiting the sunscreen shelf at the store.

So what is important when buying sunscreens for summer?

(1)    SPF: Sun Protection Factor is the most important number to know. The good thing is that there have been some new changes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for sunscreen labeling. The minimum SPF that is now required to be sold for sunscreens is SPF 15. You will not find any sunscreens with an SPF less than 15. This is great, but American Academy of Dermatology recommends that most people purchase sunscreen with SPF 30.



(2)    UVA/UVB: UltraViolet light rays are also very important to know. Fortunately the FDA has made the decision making process on UVA/UVB easier. The easiest way to remember is UVA is for Aging and UVB is for Burning. You want a sunscreen that protects from both the sun’s harmful rays that cause long term skin damage and/or aging (UVA) as well as sunburn (UVB). Again, the FDA has made this decision making process easier by ensuring that all sunscreens sold have coverage for both UVA/UVB and refers to sunscreens having “BROAD SPECTRUM” coverage.



(3)    Waterproof/Sweatproof and all related terms out there. Be aware of the time frame needed to reapply. Many sunscreen users make the mistake of applying only once, because of the “Proof” term and get burned as a result! Always apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside or participating in water sports and re-apply often! Be sure to read the label as to when the sunscreen will need to be re-applied and keep track of time.


(4)    Check Expiration Dates! Most people often have the same old bottle in their bathroom or medicine cabinet and do not check the expiration date before using sunscreen. Please check the date before using and dispose if it is expired. It will not provide protection from the sun if it is expired.


Enjoy the summer!