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Many people like the look that tanning gives their skin, and sunscreens can help protect skin from too much sun. Tanning occurs when the skin produces additional pigment that colors the skin to protect it against exposure to the sunís invisible ultraviolet rays (both UVA and UVB). Ultraviolet rays can cause sunburn and rashes that are immediately uncomfortable. Long term damage from the sun can result in premature wrinkling and skin cancer.

When choosing sunscreens, consider the following:

  • Most people can benefit from sunscreens with sun protection factor numbers (SPF) of 15 or higher. Generally, the higher the SPF number, the longer you can stay in the sun. Higher numbers may also work better for those with fair skin, those who live in high altitudes, those who perspire heavily, or those who spend much of the day outdoors.
  • Sunscreens should be applied at least 20 minutes before you go outside. Swimming and vigorous pursuits that cause perspiration will reduce the effectiveness of even water resistant sunscreens, so they should be reapplied after these activities.
  • Sunscreens are made with different ingredients depending on the manufacturer, so some products may cause allergic reactions in some people. It is wise to test a small amount of any new sunscreen you are using on a limited area of your skin before applying it more liberally.
  • Some medications may also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, reducing the amount of protection from the sunscreen. These medications include certain antibiotics, diuretics, antihistamines, birth control pills, and antidepressants.
  • Until recently, no sunscreen product could protect against UVA rays, which can be as harmful as UVB rays. Read labels carefully to find a sunscreen that protects against both types.

Sunscreens differ from sunblocks in that sunscreens absorb the sun's rays to prevent them from passing through to the skin. A sun block protects the skin by deflects the rays.

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