A PSA on SPF: Tips on getting the most protection from sunscreen

(Video by Simon Williams/Cronkite News in collaboration with ABC15 Arizona)

PHOENIX – With summer in full force, it’s more important than ever to wear sunscreen when outside. Arizonans are at a particular risk for sun-related skin damage, according to experts at the University of Arizona’s Skin Cancer Institute.

Arizona sits at a higher altitude and lower latitude than most states, meaning it’s closer to the sun and the equator. High altitude and low latitude also mean residents have less atmospheric protection from various ultraviolet, or UV, rays that can cause skin cancer, according to the foundation. And in warmer climates, people who spend time outside often choose clothing that exposes more skin.

Sunscreen is key to protecting skin from sun damage. Guided by the SPF, or sun protection factor, sunscreen commonly comes in creams, lotion, sticks or spray and, according to the Mayo Clinic, all work when used frequently.

The SPF measures how well a sunscreen can defend against UV rays. The number isn’t directly related to duration of solar exposure but rather the amount or intensity. A higher SPF doesn’t mean you can be out longer without reapplying, either. The Environmental Working Group recommends SPF 30 to 50, adding that any number higher than that is “misleading.”

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The American Academy of Dermatology suggests three steps to proper sun-damage prevention:

  1. Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before you go out.
  2. Don’t overdo it. “Most adults need about 1 ounce – or enough to fill a shot glass – to fully cover their body,” the academy says, so apply enough to cover all skin your clothing doesn’t cover. That includes feet, neck and top of the head.
  3. Reapply sunscreen about every two hours, or sooner after swimming or sweating.

Obviously, sunscreen alone doesn’t completely protect you from sun damage. Wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses and seeking shade will keep you out of direct sunlight.

Also remember if you’re at the beach or by the pool, sand and water reflect UV rays, so you’re always susceptible to burns.

Whatever level of SPF you use, you’re best protected when you reapply.

Cronkite News has partnered with ABC15 Arizona to expand the station’s Health Insider series, which provides expert advice and insights into health topics. Cronkite News is experimenting with storytelling tools and techniques to help explain the issues. Find more of our explainer videos here.

Simon Williams si-mon wil-lee-ams (he/him)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Simon Williams expects to graduate in May 2022 with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in religious studies. Williams, who has experience in play-by-play broadcasting, live event production, digital media and strategic communications, is working in the D.C. Bureau.