A guide to buying, using, and storing sunscreen


This article was originally published in the Early Summer 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Confused about sunscreen? Here’s what you really need to know to stay safe.

How to choose your block:

Read the label 

Look for these all-important key phrases: UVA and UVB protection, broad spectrum, CDA-approved.

Avoid mash-ups

Don’t use combo products, or rely entirely on SPF-rated makeup. Wear makeup. Wear bug spray. Wear sunscreen. Don’t mash them into one weird, sun-blocking turducken.

Swim + sweat

There is no such thing as water-proof—only “water-resistant.” (It’s effective for a maximum of 80 minutes in water, depending on the product.)

Check the date

Ditch expired sunscreen. Products are only designed to remain stable for three years, max. (And if one bottle lasts you more than three years, you’re probably not applying enough.)

Keep these things in mind:

Enough said

You need 30 ml, or an ounce, of sunscreen to cover your body, excluding your face and neck. Stats show that people usually apply only 25 to 50 percent of the amount that they really need.

Spray is cray

At least if you don’t apply it properly, which is easy to do. If you use an aerosol product, spray it into your hands, then rub it into your skin. Don’t spray near your nose or mouth—inhaling the stuff isn’t good.

So sensitive! 

Many prescription medications can make your skin more vulnerable to UV light, and some can increase your risk of sunburn. They can also make you more sensitive to the heat.

Storage wars

Keep sunscreen in a cool, dark, dry place, such as a cupboard. Not in the glove compartment, in the boat, on the bathroom counter (too humid), or beside the window.

Burn on you

If you get a sunburn, apply a cold, damp towel, to help reduce the heat, and moisturizer. Take ibuprofen for the pain, and drink water to rehydrate. Go to the doctor if you’re nauseous, blistering, or have a fever, headache, or chills. Then, yikes, stay the heck out of the sun while you heal.