Choosing the Right Sunscreen | Rocky Mountain Health Plans Blog



How to Pick the Right SPF

For every 100,000 people in the United States, 19.7 get skin cancer each year. The risk is even higher here in Colorado, with an increased number of people receiving a new skin cancer diagnosis every year. The rates actually increase further in mountain communities at elevations above 8,000 feet. 

Protecting your skin from the sun’s harsh rays is a vital part of living a healthy lifestyle, but many people struggle to choose the right sunscreen. Separating fact from fiction is tricky, especially when trying to answer questions like: 

  • What level of SPF do I need?
  • Is a higher SPF always better?
  • How often should sunscreen be applied? 

Understanding the facts help you choose the best sunscreen for your skin type, activity level, and more.

Is SPF the only thing that matters when choosing a sunscreen?

There’s more to picking a sunscreen than opting for one with the highest SPF. That’s because SPF only protects against one type of cancer-causing UV rays, ultraviolet B (UVB). Since SPF does not block UVA rays, you need a broad-spectrum sunscreen designed for both. 

Choosing the right SPF is still important, but experts have varying opinions on the best level of protection. The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests SPF 30 or higher for anyone going outside. Most doctors agree that anyone with very fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, or conditions that increase sensitivity to sunlight should opt for SPF 30 or higher. 

When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of caution by choosing a higher SPF. 

Additional things to consider when choosing a sunscreen

With so many types of sunscreen available, you need to pick the one that works for your lifestyle. Here are some additional things to keep in mind when shopping: 

  • Water-resistant does not mean waterproof — always check the bottle’s label to see how long the sunscreen lasts while swimming or sweating
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, and more frequently when swimming or sweating
  • Don’t forget easy-to-miss areas on your body, like your ears, tops of hands and feet, and lips
  • Wear sunscreen even on cloudy days, because cancer-causing UV rays are still problematic even if you the sun is hidden 

Sunscreen does expire. If you’re using sunblock from a previous year, check the expiration date on the package before applying. 

Sunscreen doesn’t replace regular visits to your dermatologist

Routine visits to a dermatologist are another crucial part of skin cancer prevention, especially if you think you may have skin cancer. Your dermatologist will monitor lumps, bumps, discoloring, and any other skin conditions you may have. 

If you aren’t sure about dermatology coverage for your Rocky Mountain Health Plans (RMHP) plan, call RMHP Quality Improvement at 970-263-5552 to better understand your health insurance benefits.