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Adequate sun protection is more than a numbers game. Sunscreen products are the final component in a thoughtful strategy to protect against the sun.

Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are to dress infants (babies under six months) in lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirts and cover their heads with a brimmed hat that shades the neck to prevent sunburn.

When adequate clothing and shade are unavailable, parents should apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to the infant’s face and back of the hands. If the infant does get sunburned, cold compresses should be applied to the affected areas.

For all other children, the AAP says the best line of defense against harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure is to cover up. Wearing a hat with a 3-inch brim or a bill facing forward, sunglasses with 97-100 percent protection against UVA and UVB rays and tightly woven cotton clothing is advised.

Everyone is advised to limit sun exposure during peak intensity hours – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – and keep children in the shade whenever possible. Sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater that protects against UVA and UVB rays is necessary on both sunny and overcast days.

The American Academy of Dermatology points out that most people do not apply nearly enough sunscreen; most use only 25-50 percent of the recommended amount. For proper usage, about one ounce should be applied every two hours, as well as after swimming or sweating.
Extra caution is needed near water and sand, as they reflect UV rays and can result in sunburn more quickly.

Most experts agree that sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 is recommended for adults, except for those with very fair skin. Yet caution is urged in choosing a lotion or cream, as products that boast higher than “SPF 50+” can tempt people to stay in the sun too long. While these may suppress sunburn, they do not prevent other kinds of skin damage.

American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) spokesman James M. Spencer, M.D., says, “SPF is not a consumer-friendly number. It’s logical to think that an SPF of 30 is twice as good as an SPF of 15, and so on, but that is not how it works.”

Dr. Spencer says an SPF 15 product blocks about 94 percent of UVB rays, an SPF 30 product blocks 97 percent of UVB rays and an SPF 45 product blocks about 98 percent of rays. He says SPF 15 sunscreens are fine if used correctly. He recommends SPF 30 products to his patients, he says, because few people apply sunscreens as heavily or as often as they should.

Ingredients do matter, and reading labels is important. Products with such active ingredients as zinc, titanium, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX are preferable, because these substances protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin with little, if any, penetration into the body. The sunscreen chemical oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body.

Sunbathers and parents can perform their due diligence by studying the Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen guide at: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen. As reported on WebMD, Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst, says the group’s highest-rated products have the barrier sun-blockers zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Its top picks included:

• Blue Lizard (without oxybenzone)

• California Baby SPF 30+

• CVS with zinc oxide

• Jason Natural Cosmetics Sunbrella Mineral-Based Sunblock

• Kiss My Face “Paraben Free” series

• Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunblock

Locally, consumers can find top-rated sunscreens at natural food stores such as Whole Foods Market and health stores such as Walsh Natural Health. Well-stocked supermarkets and drug stores may also be good sources.

Contact Eco Gal at ecogal247@yahoo.com or read her blog at http://askecogal.blogspot.com.