Summertime is almost here and whether you're at home, the beach, the gym, or the office, your skin needs protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays.

The myth that cloudy days mean no sunscreen required has been debunked — up to 80 percent of the sun's harmful UV rays can penetrate into your skin on overcast days, says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Out of the 3.5 million skin cancers in more than two million people that are diagnosed annually, many of them could have been prevented with sunscreen protection, says the American Cancer Society (ACS). Basal and squamous cells found at the base of the outer layer of the skin are located on areas of the skin, face, ear, neck, lips, and the back of the hands with the highest level of sun exposure. The majority of these cell cancers are frequently found in these areas of the body and are largely due in part to unprotected and/or excessive exposure to UV rays. The occasional sunburns also play a role in the likelihood of developing skin cancer. The American Melanoma Foundation (AMF) reports people who repeatedly get five or more severe sunburns in their lifetime double their risk of being diagnosed with the disease.

Sunscreen use is the ultimate antidote to risk of skin cancer. Sun protection products have the ability to absorb, reflect, or disperse sunlight as the chemicals interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. The effectiveness of these products depend on their ingredients and sun protection factor (SPF) number.

Labels To Look For In A Sunscreen

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

An SPF number reflects the amount of protection from ultraviolet (UVB) radiation of short wavelengths that it offers. However, a sunscreen with a high SPF does not mean a person can opt to stay out longer in the sun. Mayo Clinic reports choosing an SPF of 30 rather than one with SPF 15 is not an indication that you can stay in the sun twice as long. There is only a four percent difference in how much UVB rays these two SPFs filter out — SPF 15 filters 93 percent, SPF 30 filters 97 percent, and SPF 50 filters 98 percent. Despite what appears to be an insignificant disparity, those who are extremely sensitive to sun exposure and have a history of skin cancer can benefit from the extra percentages.

Tip: A rule of thumb is to use SPF 30 or higher for ultimate sun protection.

Broad Spectrum

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called attention to over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen products marketed in the United States to meet new requirements. Sunscreen products that claim to be "broad spectrum" should offer protection of ultraviolet A (UVA) that is proportional to their UVB protection. UVB rays are the ones known to cause direct damage to DNA and are the main rays to cause sun burns and most skin cancers, says ACS. UVA rays are responsible for early aging and have the potential to damage DNA cells. These rays are known to play a role in the risk factor for wrinkles.

Look for at least one of the following ingredients in a broad-spectrum sunscreen protector:

  • Benzophenones (Oxybenzone) - Provides protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Cinnamates (Octylmethyl Cinnamate and Cinoxate) - Most frequently used UVB absorber.
  • Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide - Less expensive options that offers UVA protection.
  • Avobenzone (Parsol 1789) - A UVA blocker that should be stabilized when exposed to sunlight.
  • Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) - A newly approved ingredient that blocks UVA.

Tip: A sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide is recommended for those who have skin problems or allergies.


For those who plan to be moderately active in the outdoors, the use of a sunscreen that reads water-resistant is strongly advised. Water-based activities or exercising will cause the body to perspire, which can remove your original sunscreen application. To ensure long-lasting protection, sunscreens that are wate-resistant will stay effective after 40 minutes in the water while those that are very water-resistant will last after 80 minutes, reports the FDA.

Tip: Look at how long you can wear the sunscreen product while doing your rigorous physical activity before you have to reapply.

Click on the slideshow to find out which sunscreen is the best and safest for your personal use!