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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Use sunscreen properly to help ensure protection

STILLWATER, Okla. – Now that summer has officially started, Oklahomans are making plans that include spending a lot of time outdoors.

Something to take into consideration when outdoors is the protection of your skin, said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer and housing specialist.

“You don’t think twice about putting on your seatbelt in the car, wearing oven mitts when taking a casserole out of the oven or wearing a face shield when welding. These things are protective equipment,” Peek said. “Think of sunscreen the same way. Proper use of sunscreen will help protect your skin from painful burns, possible long-term skin damage and even skin cancer.”

The shelves at your local discount or drug store are loaded with many different types of sunscreen, including lotions, creams, sticks and sprays. They also come in a variety of sun protection factors such as 15, 30 or even 50 SPF. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a minimum level of 30 SPF.

But what do these numbers really mean and can consumers trust they are getting what is being advertised on the label?

“SPF indicates protection against the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that cause sunburn. If your skin normally begins to burn after 10 minutes in full sun with no protection, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 should mean you can stay out in the sun 30 times longer,” Peek said. “However, sunscreens really don’t work that way. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied regularly be to most effective. Be sure to follow package directions.”

A recent study by Consumer Reports, shows more than 40 percent of sunscreens tested did not live up to their SPF claims. Some products claiming an SPF level of 50 on the label actually tested at an SPF level of 8.

Peek said the key thing consumers must keep in mind is the combination of the proper use of sunscreen and protective clothing.

“Sunscreen should be used in conjunction with protective clothing, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to help ensure the best protection,” Peek said. “In order for your sunscreen to be most effective, apply enough to cover all exposed skin at least 15 minutes before going outside. For adults, this is about an ounce, or the equivalent of a shot glass. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.”

When shopping for sunscreen, look for a broad-spectrum, water-resistant product that protects against both UVB and UVA rays, with a minimum SPF of 30.

“Remember, sunscreen can do only so much. Seek shade when possible and wear a hat and long sleeves when in the direct sun,” she said. “These are the best tools for protecting yourself from harmful rays.”


Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
136 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)


Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078