As we grow older, our skin becomes more fragile. The side effects of some medications, such as those prescribed for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can cause the skin to become dry. This is further compounded by the loss of the structural protein collagen, which is a natural part of the aging process. It can all contribute to increased sun sensitivity for older adults.  

As we head into summer, we thought it would be helpful to answer some of the questions seniors often have about sunscreen.

Sunscreen Basics for Seniors

Q: Is one form of sunscreen—a stick, spray, or cream—better than another?

A: Consumer Reports researched this issue and found each form of sunscreen to be equally effective. Older adults might find a sunscreen stick to be easier to use when applying to the face, while a cream or spray may be a faster way to protect the legs, arms, stomach, and back.

Q: What is SPF and what number of SPF is best on a senior’s skin?

A: SPF stands for sun protection factor. It is the rating system used to identify how effective the product is at preventing sunburn and for how long. If you typically start to experience sunburn after 10 minutes in the sun, for example, an SPF of 15 will allow you to be outdoors 15 times longer (150 minutes).

Experts recommend purchasing a sunscreen with an SPF rating between 30 and 50. A lower SPF can put you at risk for sunburn, while a higher one doesn’t offer much additional protection.  

Q: Is there a difference between UVA and UVB?

A: Both types of the sun’s rays can damage the skin, but UVB rays are the most harmful. While UVA rays are the most common, UVB rays are the ones that cause your skin to burn.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends avoiding direct sun between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. If you will be outdoors during those times, wear sunscreen, long sleeves, and a hat that shields your face. Sunglasses are also important for protecting the eyes and eye lids.

Q: How much and how often should sunscreen be applied?

A: Most people don’t use enough sunscreen, nor do they apply it as frequently as necessary. Unless the instructions indicate otherwise, the general recommendation is to apply one ounce of sunscreen (which equates to about two tablespoons) every two hours. If you are swimming or engaging in activities that cause you to sweat, reapply it more often.

Our final tip is to learn more about the risk factors for skin cancer and how to protect yourself. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and it’s on the rise across the country.



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