Be Smart When Buying Sunscreens...

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Packing the family up for a sun-filled July 4th outing? Along with the essential hot dogs, beach towels and lemonade, don't forget to include a sun protection product that provides the best available sunscreen protection for your family's particular needs. According to Jodie Bernstein, Director of the Consumer Protection Bureau of the Federal Trade Commission, consumers should understand the labeling information on sun protection products and shop carefully before heading to the beach, the tennis court or the park.

"Everyone needs smart sun protection when out enjoying summer activities, especially children," Bernstein said. "A bad sunburn does more than take the fun out of a July 4th celebration. It can lead to serious skin damage and even skin cancer but, if you understand the sun protection factor numbers that appear on all sunscreen products, you can help protect yourself and your family --- and still have a great time."

Start by evaluating the level of sun protection needed by each member of your family and then buy the products that offer the desired protection, the FTC advises in its brochure, "Facts for Consumers: Sunscreens." Sunscreens are rated by sun protection factor (SPF). Using the SPF number, you can calculate how long you can remain in the sun before burning. For example, if you would normally burn in 10 minutes without sunscreen, applying a 15 SPF sunscreen may provide you with about 150 minutes in the sun before burning. Swimming and perspiration however, will reduce the actual SPF value for many sunscreens so also look for waterproof or water resistant products. And remember that many dermatologists recommend using a product with an SPF of 15 or greater.

"Consumers should remember there is no sunscreen that can protect you from all of the sun's damaging rays," the FTC's Bernstein explains. SPF numbers only indicate the time you can stay in the sun without burning. Even without the visible signs of burning, however, exposure to the sunlight may still damage your skin. "That's why the FTC carefully monitors advertising claims in this area," Bernstein said. "We want to make sure consumers are not being misled into thinking that applying a sunscreen means they can increase their time in the sun and avoid all skin damage. Research indicates that may not be true."

FTC's Bernstein added that experts are increasingly concerned about children and sun exposure. Researchers now estimate that about 50 percent of an individual's sun exposure occurs by age 18, while the effects of that damage may not show up for years.

In its newest brochure, "Protecting Kids from the Sun," the FTC lists special precautions parents may want to follow in helping children avoid sun damage:

  • Use waterproof or water resistant sunscreens that have an SPF of at least 15.

  • Apply sunscreen liberally (at least one handful per child). To give the protective chemicals time to penetrate the skin, apply at least 30 minutes before going out in the sun.

  • Regardless of the product, be sure to reapply after swimming. Repeated application ensures that you get the advertised SPF protection but it won't extend the amount of time you can spend in the sun without burning.

  • When scheduling children's outdoor hours, remember the sun is strongest from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

  • Sunglasses will help protect children's eyes. Select sunglasses that screen out all damaging rays since experts say sun damage may contribute to the development of cataracts.

  • Keep babies younger than six months totally out of the sun. An infant's developing eyes are especially vulnerable to sunlight and sunscreens may irritate sensitive baby skin.

  • Let camp counselors at facilities attended by your children know the importance of protecting children with sunscreen whenever they are outdoors.

Both FTC brochures, "Facts for Consumers: Sunscreens," and "Facts for Consumers: Protecting Kids from the Sun," are available for free from the FTC. The publications can be obtained by writing to the Federal Trade Commission, Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580, or by calling the FTC at 202-326- 2222 and, TTY for the hearing impaired at 1-866-653-4261. Copies of these and all FTC consumer publications are also available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web site at:

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