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5 things to look for when shopping for sunscreen

By Jenna Pizzi

Dr. Daniel A. HussarAs school lets out and the entire family heads down the shore for vacation, it is important to know what to look for and what to steer clear from when shopping for the best sunscreen.

Although it may seem that all of the bottles and all of the varieties are the same, sunscreens can be complicated. Sunscreens are, after all, products regulated by the federal government with active drugs and ingredients that can impact different people in different ways.

Dr. Daniel A. Hussar, the Remington professor of pharmacy at the University of the Sciences’ Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, recommends that before you take the bottle of sunscreen to the cash register, do a little reading and ask a few questions.

Dr. Hussar recommends:

  1. Read the directions for use and follow them as closely as possible. Failure to read the directions could mean you or your family will be nursing a bad burn because not enough sunscreen was applied or re-applied as directed. For instance, many spray-on sunscreens are supposed to be rubbed in, and if they are not, the user may be left with a spotty protection. 
  1. Look for a sunscreen that has “broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection.”Sunscreens that only protect against UVB rays, will protect the skin from redness and sunburn on superficial layers. However, UVA rays may cause damage in deeper layers of the skin and may increase the risk of more serious problems such as melanoma. Therefore, it is often desirable that a sunscreen product provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
  1. Ask a pharmacist about the active ingredients if you don’t know the difference. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists more than 20 active ingredients in over-the-counter sunscreens. A pharmacist can also be helpful in answering questions about the effectiveness of particular brands or products when selecting the right sunscreen.
  1. Check the expiration date on the product to make sure it is still good. Sunscreen may not be effective if it has absorbed heat, so you may want to invest in a new bottle if yours sat in the sun for hours in the car or on the beach.
  1. No matter the SPF you will need to reapply. Just because the SPF number is higher doesn’t mean you can bake all day in the sun without a second slathering.

Dr. Hussar is the Remington Professor of Pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. His primary interests are in the areas of new drugs, drug interactions, patient compliance, and issues facing the profession of pharmacy, and he has written and spoken extensively on these subjects.

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