Choosing a sunscreen can be confusing, with continuing changes in protection rankings and labels.
Instead of relying solely on lotions, try an old-fashioned solution: a wide-brimmed hat, suggests University of Utah dermatologist Stephanie Klein.
"Sun-protective clothing is much more important than sunblock," Klein said. "One of the best things you can do is have a hat with a wide brim when doing anything outdoors."
The Friday before Memorial Day weekend is dubbed "Don't Fry Friday" by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. Utahns should take careful note, said Robert Rolfs, deputy director of the Utah Health Department.
In 2008, Utah men had the No. 1 rate in the country for melanoma cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Utah's rate for the skin cancer among all adults was ranked second, slightly behind Oregon.
"There are two factors," Rolfs said. "Because of the high altitude and clear skies, people are more exposed to [ultraviolet] light, and the population is of lighter skin, so both of those work together."
To help consumers understand the effectiveness of sunscreens, the Food and Drug Administration is changing its labeling rules. Starting in December, large manufacturers will be banned from using the terms "sunblock," "waterproof" and "sweatproof."
No products will boast a specific sun protection factor, or SPF, higher than 50+. And only those that pass a new test showing how they protect against both ultraviolet A and B rays will be able to claim they provide "broad spectrum" coverage.
UVB rays cause sunburns on skin, while physicians have identified UVA rays as a leading cause of melanoma.
Klein, who has three children under age 7, said she doesn't pay much attention to SPF ratings. Instead, she checks labels to make sure lotions have titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
"What I recommend is looking for sunblocks which ha[ve] those two ingredients," Klein said. "Typically, those all have an SPF of over 30. Focus on more of the ingredients and less on the SPF."
Some families are wary of sunscreen, concerned about the possibility of harmful chemicals seeping into skin.
"A lot of the sunscreens on the market are very chemical based," said Alice Trivas, a Salt Lake County mother of a 10-month-old son and 2-year-old daughter. "Skin cancer is a concern, but then all the chemicals often are linked to other cancers. So it's not a 'do no harm' approach."
Trivas avoids putting sunscreen on her children. Instead, she favors staying in the shade and using long-sleeved clothing to protect their skin.
Brooke Crandall, a Cottonwood Heights mother of four young boys, is also concerned about chemicals, but uses lotion when she knows her family is going to be in the sun for a long period of time.
"Unless they're at risk for a sunburn, I usually don't worry about it," Crandall said. "If we go to the beach, or are planning on spending two hours or more in the sun, I use an SPF 30 or above. â¦ I don't see the difference in using anything higher than that."
In a report last week, the Environmental Working Group said about 25 percent of sunscreen contain the chemical oxybenzone and retinyl palminate, a form of Vitamin A. The group said the ingredients can accelerate cancers if they enter the bloodstream, urging consumers to use broad spectrum sunscreens without them.
However, the American Academy of Dermatology insists that oxybenzone is safe, and that science supporting the group's claims have not been confirmed.
Klein opts to apply sunscreen to her children every day.
"Protecting ourselves from ultraviolet light is very important, and the approach we take needs to be multifaceted," Klein said. "We live in a state with a very high incidence of melanoma and we need to take sun protection seriously."
Rolfs added that people often think that becoming tan lessens the need for sunscreen. That's a myth, he learned at a recent conference.
"If you tan gradually, the rays of the sun damage the cells in our DNA," Rolfs said. "There is not a safe tan. Lots of people still have that idea. Getting the tan is still putting people at risk."
The greatest risk in over-exposure to the sun is melanoma, he said. It's the most common form of cancer for young adults ages 25 to 29.
"It's one of those cancers we know how to prevent, so we want to educate people and make the right choices to prevent it," Rolfs said. "If you detect it early enough, you can treat it successfully.
"Get something that is easy to use. The spray works the same as long as you get it on the skin, and let it soak in."
SPF 15 may protect against 92 percent of UVB ultraviolet rays.
SPF 30 may protect up to 97 percent.
Look for lotions containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and "broad spectrum" on the label.
Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are most intense.
Reapply sunscreen at least once every 2 hours, more often if you're sweating or jumping in and out of the water.
Use about lotion as much as it would take to fill a 1 ounce shot glass.
Sources: National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, The Skin Cancer Foundation