Vacation: good. Vacation tan? Not so much.


Glowing travel ads showing bronzed vacationers relaxing on a sandy beach may motivate people to risk skin cancer by tanning, according to a Baylor University researcher.

Linking suntanned skin with relaxation – or attractiveness, for that matter – doesn’t help when it comes to cancer prevention. Remember, there is no such thing as a “healthy tan.”

There is something to be said for lounging on a beach to relax – if your skin is protected. Ultimately, minimizing your exposure to the sun is the best way to prevent skin damage.

When you check the sunscreen aisle, however, you’re faced with seemingly endless options. How do you decide? Is the highest SPF the best? What about “kids” sunscreen? Or spray vs. cream?

Knowing how to read the label on a bottle of sunscreen will go a long way toward helping you make a good choice. The American Academy of Dermatology explains exactly what terms like “broad spectrum” and “SPF” mean:

  • What do SPF numbers mean? The Sun Protection Factor indicates how much UVB light the product will filter out.  SPF 15 filters 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, while SPF 50 will filter 98 percent of the sun’s burning ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The AAD recommends using SPF 30 or higher.
  • Broad spectrum sunscreen is a good thing. That means the product will block ultraviolet A (UVA) rays (which cause premature aging) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
  • Water resistant isn’t waterproof. Always reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating or even just sitting in the sun for two hours. Products marked “water resistant” should stay on wet skin for 40-80 minutes.
  • “Baby” sunscreen is less irritating to sensitive toddler skin. Use baby or kids sunscreen on kids who are 6 months old or older. If you’re using spray sunscreen, don’t spray their faces. Spray it on your hand, then smear it on their faces.
  • Spray vs. cream? Depends on your preference. Dry skin may feel better with a moisturizing cream. Sprays may be helpful if you have trouble reaching your back. The Skin Cancer Foundation breaks down sunscreen by skin type in this helpful post.

Choose a product that includes the big three: broad spectrum, water resistant and (at least) SPF 30. Most importantly – use sunscreen every day. As the Skin Cancer Foundation writes, “the sunscreen you apply consistently is the best sunscreen of all.”

You should do more than just wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun:

  • Pay attention to the time. The sun is most intense during the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Whenever you are outside in the sun, especially during this time of day, be sure to wear protective clothing, including a wide-brim hat.
  • Keep tabs on your skin. If you notice a mole or skin discoloration that seems abnormal, be sure to talk to your doctor about a skin screening.