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8 Burning Questions About Sunscreens

Experts Give Advice on Choosing and Using Sunscreens

5. Which is better, spray sunscreens or cream sunscreens? continued...

Sutton has yet another reason to prefer creams. "The problem with sprays and actually with powders is inhalation. You can actually inhale these small particles and they can potentially damage your lungs," she says.

Badreshia-Bansal is not a fan of sprays, either. "It's definitely not the optimal way to put on sunscreens." She offers sunscreen pads with SPF 30, available through physicians, to her patients who hate to put on creams.

But Began doesn't discount spray sunscreens. "I think it's a convenience issue. Some people will find the spray is easier to use. If both are applied in adequate quantity and spread over the surface of the skin, I think you can get comparable results. The spray should be sprayed diffusely. You want an even film on the skin. It is a good idea to rub it in. But it's often used on areas you can't reach. So respray [to be sure you have enough applied]."

6. Why not just cover up with clothing instead?

Clothing helps but won't replace sunscreen, says Treadwell. And not all clothing is created equal when it comes to shielding from the sun's rays. "Clothing works as long as it is a tight weave," she says.

You can test the weave to see if it is tight enough, says Began. "If you shine a strong flashlight through, you shouldn't see light on the other side."

Clothing that is treated to provide sun protection, available at sporting goods stores and online, would be preferred to tightly woven clothing without it, Began says.

7. What about the mess made with sunscreens containing titanium and zinc oxide, especially the stains on clothing and the messy feel?

You may consider spending a little more, says Treadwell. "I would say the brand name ones tend to be a little more elegant, not as thick," she says.

Or you can look on the thickness as a blessing. The physical blocking screens "leave a little sheen on the skin," she says. So it's easy to see where you have missed.

Shop around for different brands, Began says. "Everyone's skin reacts differently to the different vehicles [used in the sunscreens]," she says. "It's like picking a brand of cosmetic."

8. What else should I know about sunscreen, and what else can I do to protect myself from the sun?

Use enough sunscreen, and use it correctly, experts say. "Make sure you are applying at least an ounce to all sun-exposed areas," says Badreshia-Bansal. She recommends reapplying every two hours.

"I recommend my patients put the sunscreen on about 30 minutes to an hour before they go out the door and then reapply again when they are out in the sun," Began says. "And then, if they have a lot of sweating or have done some swimming, anything that may have decreased the concentration, they should reapply it."

You can use the SPF as a rough guide to how long the sunscreen will protect you, she says. If you use a 30 SPF, for instance, and generally burn in 10 minutes without sunscreen, you can expect about 300 minutes or five hours of protection, she says.

"We absolutely recommend wearing hats and being in the shade," Treadwell says. "And staying out of the sun [as much as possible] from 10 to 4." And wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.

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