Still using that gunky old bottle of sunscreen from last summer or the summer before that? A whopping 60 percent of women and 85 percent of men skimp on sun protection, according to a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’ve got a better idea: Get with the new stuff (micronized zinc oxide is one great choice), and plan on using up several fresh bottles this summer. Here’s why and how.
A generous slathering of sunscreen keeps skin looking younger and slashes your risk for skin cancer. One in five adults are likely to develop some form of skin cancer (an important reason to check your skin regularly for weird moles and sores that don’t heal). A well-designed Australian study from an area with the highest rates of skin cancer in the world has found that regular sunscreen use slashes risk for melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, by 50 percent. It helps protect against squamous-cell and basal-cell carcinomas, too.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays are responsible for 90 percent of the wrinkles, sagging, rough patches and spots on aging skin. Once again, it’s sunscreen to the rescue. Australian researchers have also found that wearing it regularly reduced skin aging by 24 percent over just four years. Think of what that could mean if you do it for the next 20 years. What fun at your 50th high-school reunion!
Get there by bucking a trend uncovered by the CDC survey: that most people don’t bother with sunscreen, even when heading outdoors for more than an hour. We want you to do the opposite: Slather it on any exposed skin whenever you’ll be outside for more than even a few minutes. In addition, wear an SPF-15 sunscreen daily on your face. Then take these easy steps for the safest, most effective protection:
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Don’t use expired sunscreens or those that contain the following: chemical sun-filtering ingredients like oxybenzone (a potential hormone disruptor that, in animal studies, acts like estrogen in the body); avobenzone (it’s safer than oxybenzone but may cause allergic reactions); or the anti-aging ingredient retinyl palmitate (in lab studies, it spurred tumor growth).
Opt for sunscreen with micronized zinc oxide. Finely crushed zinc oxide particles are good at reflecting both UV-A rays, which harm cells deep in the skin, and UV-B rays, which cause sunburn. The tiny particles protect even better than the bigger bits in the gloppy, white, old-fashioned zinc oxide that lifeguards and surfers wore on their noses. Once you apply new sunscreens with zinc oxide, they become sheer and seem to have more staying power than chemical sunscreen ingredients. We think they look better than products containing another safe, mineral ingredient, titanium dioxide, which may leave you looking a little gray. However, some products contain both.
Go for an SPF-30 product. It will deflect 97 percent of the sun’s UV-B radiation; paying extra for SPF-50 only increases protection by 1 percent. Apply generously — you need about a shot glass (1 ounce) to fully cover all the skin exposed when you’re wearing a bathing suit. Then reapply in two hours, sooner if you’ve been swimming or sweating heavily. Pay special attention to your back, the No. 1 spot people missed in one recent survey. Don’t be shy — ask someone else to slap some on the hard-to-reach spots!
Cover up for additional protection. Don’t rely on just a white T-shirt or beach umbrella; research shows that neither effectively shields you from UV rays. If you burn easily or want more protection, consider investing in sun-guard clothing with a “UPF” (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of 25-50, which can block 96 to 98 percent of UV rays. Kids are perfect candidates for UPF clothing, especially at the beach. UPF clothes can be found in just about every large sporting-goods store and online.
So grab the sunscreen, some big sunglasses, a broad-brimmed hat, light and airy UPF garb, and look good while you stay healthy and enjoy your summer.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.