Now that the Food and Drug Administration has required sunscreen labels to be more clear, it's important to know what's new and what's still missing.
Here's what you need to know:
- Sunscreen labels can no longer claim to be "waterproof" or "sweatproof," nor can they claim to offer "instant protection" or "sunblock."
- The SPF is the important indicator of a sunscreen's efficacy. A sunscreen must have a SPF level of at least 30 to offer sufficient protection from UVA rays, but there probably isn't much benefit to using sunscreens with SPF levels of 40 or more.
- The term "broad band" or "broad spectrum" means that the sunscreen will cover both UVA and UVB radiation, which could help protect you from skin aging and burning. SPF only relates to the sunscreen's abiliy to block UVB rays.
- Sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium oxide provide physical barriers against the sun's rays, and offer an alternative if you're concerned about the chemicals in most sunscreens.
The bottom line: when in doubt, wear sunscreen. It's better than going unprotected. Studies have shown that one bad burn during childhood can double the risk of melanoma, and melanoma rates are increasing for children, teens and especially for young women between the ages of 19 and 30.
To help assess the day-to-day danger of UVA and UVB rays, the Environmental Protection Agency has a free app on its website called SunWise. Search by zipcode to see the UV index in your area, just like you check the weather every day.