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UPF clothing blocks the sun's rays; but affordable sunscreen helps, too

Here's good news for your wealth and health: The proven best way to protect your skin from the burning, wrinkling, cancer-causing rays of the sun is also the cheapest.

Just stay inside.

This is not, however, the most realistic plan, especially if you work outdoors, love the beach or need to walk the dog.

Still, strategic sun avoidance should be your first line of defense, says Dr. Neil Fenske, professor and chairman of the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of South Florida.

That means usually seeking shade between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. In the summer, stretch it at least an hour or so on either side.

And if you're on a boat, Fenske warns, the danger zone is even longer because of how rays reflect off the water.

When you do venture out, the second-best line of defense is protective clothing, Fenske says. In third place: sunscreen.

And although neither protective clothing nor sunscreen are as cheap as staying in, you can find good deals in both categories — and enjoy the sun.

''In this day and age you can find very good sun protection that's very affordable,'' said Dr. Mary Lien, faculty dermatologist in the division of cutaneous oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

"You don't have to live like a hermit.''

Protective clothing

• Go high-tech. Both doctors agreed that the physical barrier provided by today's ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) clothing is superior to sunscreen. It won't wash off or sweat off, and you don't have to reach between your shoulder blades to apply.

Plus, an initial investment in protective gear will save you plenty in sunscreen — not to mention sun damage.

Fenske cheerfully admits he probably looks like a "complete dork'' in his swimsuit, a long-sleeved number that zips up to his chin but dries in 10 to 15 minutes. (We bet he looks less dorky than the guy we saw at a recent spring training baseball game with a neck the color of boiled lobster.)

Expect to pay at least $25 for a UPF shirt, but there are deals to be had, as sun-safe clothing is all the rage in every sport, from swimming to fishing to hunting.

Scour the Internet for the best prices, or clip coupons in the Sunday Tampa Bay Times for stores like Sports Authority and Bealls — both sell gear with UPF. Look for sales; we outfitted our favorite fisherman for half-price last Christmas at Sports Authority.

• Or go low-tech. Everyday clothing isn't quite as protective, but it's helpful. Dark colors are better than light colors and dry is better than wet at blocking the sun — that white cotton T-shirt worn in the pool is only a little better than nothing.

Lien also said that synthetics, with their tighter weave and sweat-wicking capacity, work better than cottons. Make your workout clothes do double-duty!

• Don't forget the hat. "You need at least a 4-inch brim all the way around,'' Lien said. They, too, come with UPF.

• And if you have a baby younger than 6 months, shade and protective clothing are crucial. Their tender skin is too delicate for sun or chemical sunblock.

Sunblock

Even with a full suit of UPF, you'll still need sunblock for your face and anything else that's exposed. The good news is that on June 18, long-anticipated federal rules aimed at making these products more useful and less baffling finally take effect.

You already can see some helpful differences on labels.

Rather than just the SPF number, look for: "Broad Spectrum Protection'' and "UVA/UVB.''

SPF only tells you about protection from UVB, the rays primarily responsible for sunburn. It says nothing about UVA light, which cause wrinkles and melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer.

Get to know the labels, and save money. "Today's mantra is 'broad spectrum,' '' said Fenske, and those words matter a lot more than a fancy price tag.

• One of Consumer Reports' top-rated products is No-Ad with Aloe and Vitamin E, SPF 45, which we found last week at Publix for $6.99 for a 16-ounce bottle. That's just 44 cents an ounce. Right there on the label you can see the magic words: "UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum Protection with Avobenzone'' — the ingredient that protects against UVA rays.

• Other top-rated price performers: Target's Up & Up Sport SPF 30 ($9.44 online for two 6-ounce spray bottles) and Walmart's Equate Baby SPF 50 ($5 online for an 8-ounce bottle of lotion).

• Want something fancier for your face? La Roche-Posay's Anthelios SPF 40 can set you back $30-something for a 1.7-ounce tube. Lien and Consumer Reports also recommend budget-friendlier Neutrogena products.

• SPF numbers of more than 30 aren't proven to provide better protection, but they can be more expensive, Fenske said.

• Buy the giant size. You'll go through it fast if you use it right: at least 1 full ounce (a small shotglass) reapplied every two hours, or whenever it washes off. This is far more than we've used in the past, but Lien would prefer if we all used 2 ounces.

• If a facial tissue doesn't stick to you after applying sunblock, Lien says you need more.

• Still have last summer's bottle? Toss it and buy new. Sunblock loses its effectiveness over time.

• Fill small opaque travel bottles from your big jug, and stash them in your purse, car, wherever you usually remember that you forgot the block.

• Coat your ears, nose, feet, upper back and the back of your neck. Both doctors say they're among the most forgotten — and most vulnerable — areas they see in their patients.

• Every day, look to see what your clothing does not cover. "Most women do a wonderful job of protecting their face, but then they neglect their upper chest, and it's all wrinkly and crinkly and red,'' said Fenske.

The best tip of all

Don't use tanning beds.

Both Fenske and Lien said they are treating patients in their 20s with potentially deadly melanomas acquired in tanning beds. Even the World Health Organization has declared tanning beds a major cancer hazard.

Maybe you won't burn on a bed — that's caused by UVA rays — but it's the UVB rays that do the deeper damage.

• Learn to love your unbronzed self. Or get a spray tan. But wear a protective mask and don't forget that you can get just as bad a burn with a fake tan as with no tan.

• Or try one of our favorite products, Jergen's Natural Glow Moisturizer, now with broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection ($9 for a 6-ounce tube at CVS).

Charlotte Sutton can be reached at csutton@tampabay.com.

UPF clothing blocks the sun's rays; but affordable sunscreen helps, too 06/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 3:00pm]
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